Cuba Targets Emerging Travel Markets
IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE EXCELENCIAS MAGAZINE, CUBA'S TOURISM MINISTER MANUEL MARRERO SPELLS OUT THE KEYS TO
THE INCREASING INFLOW OF RUSSIAN TOURISTS TO CUBA
The meeting with the Cuban Tourism Minister in Russia, during the International Exhibition of Travel and Tourism of Moscow (MITT 2019), allowed us to know the keys to the formidable annual growth in the number of Russian travelers visiting the island nation.
Coping with the hurdles posed by the current U.S. administration, a natural market for Cuba, tourism authorities opted to give top priority to the emerging markets, as well as focus on new niches and segments, such as Health and MICE, in which the country has optimal conditions to offer.
We are living a good moment in terms of receiving tourists from Russia, with “a figure that practically doubled last year,” Mr. Marrero said. The arrival of 137,800 travelers from that country in 2018 meant to be a 30 percent increase compared to 2017.
And this year, is it going as smooth as the past?
When we analyze the period until March 12, we have welcomed 38,500 Russians, that is, up 30 percent and that puts us in a favorable condition. However, we are taking action to build customer loyalty. Our strategy is to give maximum importance to this market, which thanks to its over-compliance, has covered to a large extent the outbound shortfall from other countries.
What countries are the most direct competitors Cuba faces for the Russian market?
Fundamentally, the Dominican Republic, although we consider that Cuba is well positioned in this market. The tour operators are happy. However, we should not rest on our laurels. The economic situation in Russia has changed their booking style and we should think about how to make the trip to our country easier, and beef up the communication campaign.
We will seek and take a closer look at new market niches. The fact that there is a lot of repeat travelers encourages us to offer other options, such as attracting students and retirees, to whom we even guarantee health insurance.
Health tourism, for example, is also aimed at those who suffer from chronic diseases and need treatment during their
vacations, such as kidney patients who need dialysis. In Varadero, there is a clinic with all the conditions, fitted out with new technologies and a specialized service with exceptional human treatment. This can make a difference when stacked up against other destinations.
How is luxury tourism evolving as far as Cuba is concerned?
Here there are several agencies that send quality customers, which have been assured to feel very happy, they and their customers, for the opening of high-quality facilities or that are in high demand among Russians, such as the Grand Hotel Manzana Kempinski and the Iberostar Grand Packard, while we continue building other lodgings. This new generation of hotels will undoubtedly find a safe market in Russia.
Then Aeroflot will increase frequencies, won't it?
Well, Aeroflot has four frequencies and has already gone for a fifth. What I can tell you is that the flights are completely booked. I have no further information at the moment, but it would be great if they resumed the seven flights that existed in the past.
From Moscow, Aeroflot will travel directly to Panama. How will this situation affect Cuba?
It is a new window of opportunity that opens up. It will help us in our policy of promoting multidestination travel, although we think that this Panama flight is very business-oriented.
In the case of multidestination, what countries would be considered?
Panama and Mexico that have many daily connections. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia. These issues of increasing airlift and opening new operations in competitor countries must also be construed as an opportunity, and we could also take part in it and cash in on it.
How is Cuba focusing on training to upgrade its gastronomic positioning?
We have taken actions based on the existence of a governmental assurance commission and nonstop encouragement to the development of tourism, which I preside over and in which ten ministers are engaged. Every month, we assess those issues related to the sector, what it needs to be done and how tourism demands are actually faring.
Important actions are being carried out by several ministries, investments to make national productions demanded by tourism ramp up, both in the food industry and in agriculture. In can mention, for example, covered crops, mini-industries associated with favoring the production of fruits, vegetables, among others.
Nonetheless, the importation of a volume of fruits and vegetables that meet the needs of seasonal products was approved. A joint venture was also authorized for the Mariel Special Development Zone, with the Iberostar group and aimed at importing fresh products to supply all its hotels at a first stage, and later on provide the service to all the hotel chains.
Is MICE tourism considered as those new market niches you're looking for?
MICE tourism is a top priority for us. For a second year in a row, we have held the MITT Americas fair and exhibit, which was so successful last year. That's just one more step to approach this segment. The incentives are going to take force, for that reason new facilities are being built in other travel destinations across the island nation, large enough to accommodate travel and tourism-oriented events.
Congresses and conferences have been a strong point in Havana for a long time. Now, the opening of these new spaces in the country will help us grow even more. We have been touting Varadero in that sense and hotels are being refurbished with salons and halls ready to cater to this sector.
Estamos viviendo un buen momento en cuanto a la recepción de turistas desde Rusia. Cuba is living a goodmoment as far as incoming Russian tourists are concerned.