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Cuba Tourism, Ready for the Tsunami to Come?
parque calixto garcia lisandra cardoso04As foreign tourists continue visiting Cuba at an impressive rate mainly encouraged in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the island and the US many are asking themselves the question: Is the Cuban tourism industry ready to take on the "wave" of vacationers expected in the upcoming season?

After reaching the record 3 million mark in 2014 initial reports this year are encouraging. According to official reports, over 2 million vacationers arrived to Cuba from January to July representing a 15.9 percent increase.

Preliminary estimates indicate that the tendency will continue to increase and it is estimated that by the end of the year the figure will reach close to four million international vacationers taking into account the current hike where the influx is mainly from the US which has doubled compared to last year.

However, this tourism "boom" in the Caribbean island already considered among the most popular in Central America and the Caribbean is looked at by many with pessimism or at least, caution regarding the capacity for Cuba to respond to a substantial increase of foreign tourists.

Recently AP reported: "an important number of US visitors could overflow the system and will leave the Cubans without control (...), the hotels are not enough and the tourists will have to go to the private sector, which is good".

Hotel capacity is a nightmare with only 90 thousand Americans visiting said Collin Laverty owner of Cuba Educational Travel who also expects the island to begin investment in guest houses as an alternative to offer lodging.

Those with good intentions are concerned on the quality of the services and installations in addition to training the personnel that will work in the tourism sector above all in comparison with well ranked destination like Cancun-Riviera Maya (Mexico) and the Dominican Republic.

For others, the current and future of the sector begins to look good. "In tune to the current changes on the island to accelerate its economic growth rate, the tourism industry has defined and carried out an extensive Development Plan until 2030, said Alexander Sierra Bouza, General Director of Development of the Tourism Ministry.

With the current capacity of 63 thousand rooms –of which almost 70 percent are four and five star hotels-, Cuba will continue to invest in additing new and better installations in the coming years. The estimates indicate that by 2020 the island will have over 85 thousand rooms.

For the Director of Development, these are discreet figures according to the existing potential in the country. "I am convinced that in 15 years we can construct and commercialize over 200 thousand rooms".

The non-state sector are included in the project and occupies an important role as a rich complement to the state offers. There are currently over 12 thousand homes that are attracted to tourists with rooms and excellent food.

Regarding the existing infrastructure in the territory, we can compete in the region. Riviera Maya which welcomes a little over 3 million tourists in a year, has a little less than 50 thousand rooms; while the Dominican Republic with over 5 million vacationers has a hotel capacity of some 68 thousand rooms, said Jose Luis Perello, economist and Professor of the School of Tourism of the University of Havana.

However, our rich and well conserved cultural, historic and natural heritage is what makes us different and unique in the area not to mention the continent, insisted Sierra Bouza.

Cuba treasures 253 protected areas, 257 national monuments, 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 7 Natural Biosphere Reserves and 13 Fauna Refuge among other non-tourist zones.

It is also connected by air to over 50 cities in the world on 36 international airlines that operate to the island's main tourism complexes among them Havana, Varadero, Cayo Santa Maria, Jardinesdel Rey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

The island has three cruise terminals, 7 international marinas and 39 international diving centers and installations that are currently in an investment process to strengthen the nautical modality on the island.

But what we have will not be enough in achieving and maintaining high quality standards in the services, which is fundamental in the strategy of tourism development aimed at having a unique product and maybe, before anyone can expect it and without showing off we can reach the 10 million visitors in 12 months. / By Venus Carrillo Ortega - ACN Special Service.

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