Beach vacations continue to be Cuba’s flagship product in the tourism sector. Despite travel warnings advising U.S. travelers to reconsider trips to the island, the 60 year old blockade, and hostile media campaigns, the country continues to be a popular Caribbean destination.
Among important locations closer to Havana are the Villa Clara keys, where resorts were recently renovated, and this year’s FitCuba international tourism fair was held. Since 1995, when these barrier islands were connected to the mainland with the construction of a causeway, their development has been unstoppable. Available here today are 10,572 rooms in 17 hotels.
“Starting with 24 in 1999, by 2012 we had 5,682 hotel rooms, the marina, the dolphinarium, the international clinic, and the tourist plazas La Estrella and Las Dunas. Today we additionally have new hotels, and two more plazas: Las Terrazas and Las Salinas, land transportation, nautical options, and excursions,” reported Frank P. Oltuski, vice president of marketing for Gaviota S.A.
Perhaps the numbers do not convey all the work that was done to develop this destination, but it was created starting from zero. Issues like water supply, electricity, roads, landscaping, waste treatment, signage, and many others were addressed to allow for the expansion visible today.
“Right now a desalinization plant on Cayo Santa María is in the final stage of adjustments prior to start-up, with four reverse osmosis modules that supply 50 liters of water per second, added to the 140 liters we pump to the keys from the mainland,” Oltuski explained.
To definitively secure the keys’ water supply, set to be completed in 2019 is another plant with the same capacity, allowing for a total of 100 liters of water per second, from this source alone, he added.
Currently in operation are five plants to treat the liquid waste generated in hotels, providing between 20 and 30 thousand cubic meters of re-use water, utilized to irrigate landscaping. Also underway are new investment projects to process and recycle all types of waste materials, in accordance with environmental conservation policies being implemented on the keys, which are part of the Buena Vista Bay World Biosphere Reserve.
Along with these efforts, the capacity to generate 55MW of electricity distributed through underground cables, has allowed for the opening of hotels every year or two. Oltuski added that two new hotels are set to open for the 2018-2019 high season: the Paradisus los Cayos, a five-star facility with 802 rooms, and the Angsana Cayo Santa María, with 252 rooms.
“This will place us a few steps away from reaching the maximum hotel capacity set for the Villa Clara keys, a goal we will meet by 2020, when we finish the Salina Noreste and Salina Suroeste hotels, with 633 and 621 rooms, respectively,” Oltuski added.
Resort hotels are not the only attraction in Cuba. Sites like the dolphinarium, spas, plazas with restaurants, recreational centers, and discotheques, among others, are options for vacationers in this part of the Caribbean Marinas boast fleets of catamaran sailboats, boats for private tours, and yachts for divers and anglers, with trolling, fly-fishing, and deep sea fishing excursions available.
The Gaviota Tour travel agency, for example, offers a wide portfolio of excursions and tours emphasizing the country’s history and culture. Of interest are day trips to the cities of Remedios, Trinidad, and Santa Clara – where the Ernesto Che Guevara Mausoleum Historical Complex is located – as well as excursions to Havana and its historic districts.
Likewise, nature tourism is offered in Topes de Collantes, a protected natural landscape, where ecotourists can combine bathing in thermal spring waters with hiking in the beautiful mountains.
The interests of those visiting the island continue to grow broader. The diversity of destinations has allowed for constant growth in the sector, and with this, the opening of new accommodations and the expansion of hotel capacity.
In Camagüey’s Jardines del Rey, inaugurated this past March was the Grand Muthu Hotel Cayo Guillermo with 500 rooms, and in the final stage of construction is the 500-room Punta Rasa II, and the Pilar I offering 24 luxury suites, set to open this coming September.
“The Ocean Arenas Blancas with 546 rooms, along with the Quebrada Hotel, announced the inauguration of Cayo Cruz as a new destination north of Camagüey, while opening for business this year is the Iberostar Holguín, with 638 rooms,” Oltuski reported.
“In Havana, for its part, we will soon have the Iberostar Grand Hotel Packard with 321 rooms. This hotel is already generating expectations given its quality standards, privileged location, and the type of product, reinforcing luxury hotel offerings in the capital, along with the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski», he continued.
The Gaviota S.A. group has 1,892 rooms in Havana, and by 2025 plans to add another 7,000 new hotel rooms to met demand in the city. Set to open in 2019 is the 250-room Paseo del Prado, while in the neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar, construction is beginning of several modern hotels, which should be ready by 2021.
“Legendary sites from the past like the Gran Hotel, the Corona cigar factory building, the Regis Hotel, the Cueto Palace and that of the Marquis of Monte Hermoso are being renovated and will reopen as Habaguanex luxury accommodations in the city’s central historic district. Thereafter, through 2021, additional activity is expected as part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana,” Oltuski added.
This year, Gaviota S.A. is adding some 2,750 new rooms to its capacity, and will end 2018 with 33,200 rooms in 93 hotels, representing 50% of the nation’s total hotel capacity. At the same time, progress continues on expansion and development in destinations like Varadero, Cayo Paredón Grande (off the northern coast of Ciego de Ávila), Cayo Cruz (in the Sabana-Camagüey archipelago), the Ramón de Antilla Peninsula in northern Holguín, and Havana. / Granma