Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Cuba's tourism boom is starting to slow down

Cuba's tourism boom is starting to slow down
Daniel Trotta, Reuters

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's tourism boom continues at a record pace but is
expected to cool off during 2016 with the government forecasting nearly
6 percent growth this year after a 17 percent increase in 2015.

Amid the international buzz surrounding the country's detente with the
United States, Cuba received a record 3.5 million visitors in 2015, then
set another record for any single month in January 2016, officials said.

The influx has pushed capacity to the limit and forced many tourists to
scramble for hotel rooms, raising questions about how Cuba will absorb
additional visitors when scheduled U.S. commercial airline service
starts this year.

The Communist government is rushing to increase hotel capacity in the
capital Havana and the beach resort Varadero, the two markets under the
most strain, said Dalila Gonzalez, deputy director of marketing for the
Tourism Ministry.

Cuba has forecast 200,000 additional visitors this year, or 3.7 million
total, which would be less than a 6 percent increase, Gonzalez said.

The January record of 417,764 visitors was up 12.7 percent from a year

"One of our priorities for this year is the construction of four- and
five-star hotels, especially five-star hotels," Gonzalez told Reuters.
"All you have to do is walk the streets of Old Havana to see a lot of
construction under way."

Projects remain months or years from completion, meaning the hotel
crunch is likely to continue, especially during the high season from
November to March.

A man poses jokingly with a television set, used as a computer screen
and built in the former Soviet Union, during the inauguration of the
annual International Technology Fair in Havana.

The Manzana de Gomez, an ornate building being converted into a luxury
hotel, is due for completion by early 2017. It is a joint venture
between the venerable Swiss chain Kempinski and the Cuban state tourism
company Gaviota.

Construction recently began on a Sofitel luxury hotel on a prime parcel
fronting Havana's famous malecon, or boardwalk. Refurbishing of
out-of-commission rooms in aging hotels is also under way.

Occupancy rates at four- and five-star hotels in Havana and Varadero
surpassed 80 percent last year, Gonzalez said, a figure that includes
the low season.

Because Americans are still banned from tourism under the U.S. trade
embargo and only allowed on officially sanctioned visits, Americans
concentrate in the capital rather than at forbidden beach resorts. That
makes finding a hotel in Havana during the high season a challenge.

American visits last year rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting
hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans, and Gonzalez said a similar
percentage increase was possible in 2016.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)

Source: Cuba's tourism boom is starting to slow down - Business Insider

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