Fabian Flores (Café Fuerte)
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.
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: