Cuba Can Service U.S. Tourists If Ban Is Lifted
BY JENS ERIK GOULD | BLOOMBERG NEWS—Cuba's tourism industry will have enough capacity for the surge of American travelers expected should U.S. lawmakers lift restrictions on visits to the island, said Miguel Figueras, an advisor at Cuba's tourism ministry.
Cuba agrees with an estimate by the American Society of Travel Agents that 835,000 U.S. tourists a year, excluding cruise ships or Cuban-American family visitors, would come after an end to the travel ban, Figueras said. Cuba aims to build 30 new hotels with 10,000 rooms and 10 golf courses by 2014 without counting on changes in U.S. policy, he said.
The tourism sector represents 7 percent of Cuba's gross domestic product, Figueras said. Revenue increased 11 percent to $1.8 billion last year from 2007. ''Every month an American company comes,'' Figueras said, citing talks with U.S. companies about hotel and golf course projects that might be possible should the embargo end. ''The Americans are missing out,'' said Juliette Sibson, a British tourist sipping frozen daiquiris at El Floridita, a bar in central Havana made famous by Ernest Hemingway. ``The history is amazing.''
If U.S. travel restrictions were lifted, the number of Americans visiting would more than triple from 171,000 in 2005 to between 554,000 and 1.1 million, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. Last year, Canadians accounted for 818,246 of the 2.3 million tourists that visited the island, the Cuban statistics agency said.
The Dominican Republic, another Caribbean resort destination, housed 4.4 million tourists in about 60,000 hotel rooms in 2006, according to its tourism ministry website.
Many Americans who visit Cuba arrive on flights from Canada or Mexico and ask Cuban customs officials not to stamp their passports to avoid fines for violating the travel ban.
Cuba has about 48,000 hotel rooms, Figueras said. There are 15 hotels under joint venture contracts with foreign companies, and 49 hotels managed by international partners. The foreign companies include Sol Melia, the world's largest resort operator, and Accor, Europe's largest hotel company.