Cuba’s Military on the Hunt for Chinese Tourism

Fabian Flores  (Café Fuerte)

Chinese tourists in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — The Grupo Gaviota, one of the pillars of the commercial chain operated by Cuba’s Armed Forces, has launched an aggressive campaign to attract Chinese tourists to Cuba.

The Cuban government is laying its bets on the mid-term potential of the Chinese tourism market, today the top source country (reporting 100 million travelers every year)

The number of Chinese tourists that travel to the island is infinitesimal when compared to other destinations (a mere 22,218 Chinese travelled to Cuba last year), despite the 100 % growth experienced since 2008. China ranks 15th among the island’s tourism source countries.

Courting the Chinese

According to a report issue by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), a delegation of the Grupo Gaviota company headed by general manager Ileana Pilar Martinez traveled to China at the beginning of September and held a meeting at the Cuban embassy with the three agencies that were the main sources of Chinese tourism to the island in 2013.

Martiez invited the Chinese companies to assess the possibility of joint ventures in the tourism sector, from the building of hotels to the creation of golf courses.

The visit to China by Gaviota representatives coincided with the launching of a six-minute promotional video (below), with Chinese subtitles, about Cuba’s touristic charms.

By the close of the year, the Grupo Gaviota S.A. will operate 55 hotels, 12 of them in the Varadero beach area, for a total of 29,400 rooms. The company is also planning the development of marinas and a range of other tourist facilities.

Chinese Food

The expansion of the Gaviota Varadero Marina, expected to become Cuba’s largest and most modern facility of its kind (with a mooring capacity of 1,200 vessels), will be completed next year.

The first Cuba-China forum was held in Havana last year. It was aimed at the promotion of Cuban products that could contribute to an increase in Chinese tourism.

At the forum, there was talk of raising the number of Chinese visitors to the island to 100,000 a year. The Chinese ambassador in Havana, Zhang Tuo, went as far as predicting “a sea of Chinese tourists for the near future.

Some of the issues to be addressed in order to encourage more visits to Cuba from China are the scarce availability of Chinese food on the island, the training of tourist guides who speak Mandarin and the search for better flight connections between the two countries.

Gaviota video promoting Chinese tourism in Cuba:

23 thoughts on “Cuba’s Military on the Hunt for Chinese Tourism

  • I have booked the Iberostar Varadero starting November 2 – C. U Der ???

  • A great trip for the mega rich of China would be – one week in Vancouver – second week in Cuba – Si !!!

  • When the Chinese completed the railway they had no Chinese ladies to party and put with so most went to the USA – some went back to China. A few did marry into the Europeon and African ethnic groups. When a person fron Africa has a baby with a person from China the baby looks very much AFRICA – Si !!!

  • Machado is a relative to my children by adoption of their mother. They are directly related to the late Celia Sanchez. Both are going into politics after they complete their education – Michel – Dr. of International Law – Angelica – Dr. of Surgery

  • That is very interesting and I love the bit about the twinkle. But whereas the Chinese population of Canada has blossomed and grown, that in Cuba has diminished nearing the point of extinction.
    It was for example salutory that the 2012 Census in Cuba made no provision in its racial question number 6 for the Chinese. The three choices being White, Metiza/Mulato and Black.
    Clearly the Castro family regime will have marked enthusiasm to pander to the needs of the capitalist Chinese. Firstly because they are searching for a patron to replace Maduro’s Venezuela which now has the 2nd highest inflation rate in the world and secondly that developments involving Gaviota SA are beneficial to the family coffers, being under the direction of Raul’s son-in-law.
    The Cuban railway system as part of the national infra-structure has degenerated into a pitiful state under Socialismo, one train a day passes through our town.

  • I really am happy for those goats Gordon, I first saw them in 1976 when staying with Neil and Pat Duggan at Cobble Hill. It was Neil’s grandfather who cut the original road from Cowichan Bay to Cobble Hill and i have a signed copy of “Cowichan my Valley” written by Neil’s uncle. I guess today’s goats are the great grandchildren of the ones I first saw.
    Yes, I am aware of the changes in Cuba. A very well educated young fellow aged about 35 said to me that the decision to allow Cubans to buy and sell their homes was the biggest political change in his lifetime. But, the hardened old Stalinists like your relative Machado Ventura will resist providing anything that encourages the freedom of the individual and inhibits the control by the State.

  • I have been to Cuba 85 times and raised my children in Granma Province and know the problems you refer to but things are changing.
    Yes – goats still on roof.

  • Since I first visited Cuba on research in March of 1993 I have studied the history of of Cuba and the Chinese were an integral part in building Cuba. Slavery was abolished in 1868 and over 120,000 Chinese men were brought to Cuba for cheap labour and most came directly from China. When Sir William Van Horn completed the Canadian Pacific Railway he was contracted to build railways in Cuba. Van Horn brought to Cuba , from Canada his top Chinese workers to supervise the construction.
    The newly mega rich Chinese tourists to Cuba will not be looking for work in Cuba. They will looking for investment opportunities. I believe the new condos – For Sale – to non Cubans at the Mjelia Marina Varadero will be high on their list for their first purchase.
    My Cuban – Canadian daughter – Angelica Robinson has a slight Chinese twinkle in her eyes and loves Chinese food. Did one of my childrens past relative work on the Canadian and Cuban railroads for Sir Willian Van Horn ?

  • Yet the Cubans who work in the tourism sector are dependent upon tips. I guess the Chinese just don’t care about the workers. Obviously the capitalists care more for the workers and appreciate service.

  • Your right about no tipping from Chinese tourist, Mr. Griffin, that is because in China, we don’t tip! You pay what is listed on the bill. With a only exception being a tourist guide for foreigner group. Who was introduced of this concept of tipping, by his clients a while back.

    Now you see how different people are, in the world.

  • The Cuban’s will discover that the Chinese tourists will not tip Cuban waiters, taxi drivers and hotel maids the way Canadian tourists do. What money the Chinese do bring will flow only into the pockets of the regime, very little will go to the average Cuban.

  • Correct.
    Cuba has a very substantial hard currency debt with China accumulated for example by obtaining buses for Transtur. Gaviota, Viazul and Astro and those awful junk Geely cars on credit. But with a per capita GDP of $4,430, only a tiny percentage of Chinese will be able to afford to visit and they will be either those who have benefitted from China’s adoption of capitalism or Chinese government employees.
    But the Chinese who have ‘made it’ have a preference for visiting places like Paris. Cuba has few ethnic Chinese citizens, so unlike countries like Canada, will not benefit from family connections. So I doubt if many of the additional 14,000 hotel bedrooms being constructed over the next couple of years by Gaviota under the direction of the President’s son-in-law will be occupied by Chinese. The main flow of tourists will continue to be from the free democratic countries upon whom the Cuban economy is largely dependent.

  • It was the vigour of Cuba which over the centuries built the buildings that you see today in the towns and cities. Picturesque Alamar represents the best of the Castro family regime weary years of power. Do please visit!
    The UNESCO funded restoration work is all upon buildings constructed prior to the advent of communism. Perhaps you rodrigvm could list say ten buildings in Old Havana that were standing 500 years ago? I know of one house in Cuba that was standing in 1517.
    I have to bow to your obviously superior knowledge of prostitution in Cuba, mine is more related to theCuban population at large with whom I mingle and socialize.
    Your mother’s boss obviously also had much expertise in prostitution, drugs and extreme porn shows. What he apparently lacked was knowledge of the vigour that built Cuba and even constructed the bridge leading to Matanzas and the tunnel to El Morro, the first of which is used to promote tourism to Cuba on overseas television and is featured in many architectural and engineering journals.
    But I guess that if ones preoccupation is with the sordid aspects of life that is to be expected.

  • Miami again? Remember what I told you…..don’t piss off the Cubans in Miami who are bankrolling the failed Cuban regime. Well at least you didn’t call them gusanos this time.

    Its so funny when the MINT posters comment on this site. They try oh so hard to paint 1950’s cuba as some den of inequity so as to divert attention and cover up the vibrant economy and large middle class. Its just do obvious.

  • The money that these tourists will bring will help the economy of Cuba.

  • You forgot to say that El Morro and La Cbana were built by Spain 500 years ago. The only vigor that existed before 1959, as my mother’s boss used to tell me was prostitution, drugs and extreme porn show. I guess that was vigorous? I am sorry that because Cuba needs to use tourism to overcome the effects of the blockade prostitution and drug use has increased, but not at the level of 1959. I don’t think they have the porn shows yet, those are in Miami.

  • Because many Cubans admire the US and envy those from the free world who are able to afford the luxury of cruise ships. The difference between the Cuba that you describe as a tourist and that I describe as one whose home is there in a large town where there are no tourists, is that you see what the regime wants you to see, I see reality.
    Incidentally, are the goats still eating the grass on the roof of that store on the way to Port Alberni? I as a tourist took a photograph of them many years ago.

  • Over the past 21 years I have visited cuba 85 and most visits were to A.I. resorts. Wwhen I was at the Melia Marina Varadero I was shocked to see 23 pictures of American owned cruise ships in the buffet. ? Why does this resort promote U.S. cruise ship tourism which is in direct competion with Cuba’s land based tourism ? I am 100 % sure those U.S. cruise ships do not have pictures of Cuban resorts on their walls.
    Gordon Robinson Port Alberni B.C. Canada
    [email protected]

  • In 2012, Las Vegas received more than 269,000 Chinese tourists of the more than 1.2 million Chinese who visited the entire US that year. New York City was the #1 destination in the US with more than 500,000 Chinese visitors. France is the #1 visited country by Chinese tourists year after year. What do these destinations all have in common? Chinese tourists are big spenders and love to buy western items that are heavily taxed in China. It is not likely that a poor socialist country like Cuba will attract large numbers of Chinese tourists. The Chinese, in general, hate the sun and tend to stay in their travel groups. Cuba as a tourist destination lends itself to sun-seekers and people who like to walk around on their own to take in the sights. This post sounds like another Castro pipe dream.

  • The promotional video is very good with some excellent shots of Old Havana and Trinidad. Both constructed long prior to the dictatorship of the Castro family regime and reflecting the vigour that once existed in Cuba. Both locations have been restored by financing from UNESCO the largest contributor being the US and with tiny Israel contribuiting about 4%. There is an aerial shot of the Chinese Yutong bus operated by Gaviota SA crossing the wonderful bridge at the beginning of the Province of Matanzas. Both it and the tunnel leading to El Morro in Havana were constructed during the Batista presidency.

  • This expenditure in a country where there is a housing deficit of over 600,000 homes. But, if 100,000 visiting Chinese per year are to bring their yachts with them – who knows? With a per capita GDP of $4,430, the number of Chinese able to afford to travel is limited – those that are, are those that have adopted capitalism or work for the communist government.

  • I was at the Melia Marina Varadero in January and it is massive – construction cost over $ 600 million

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