Cuba continues to bet on tourism to help economy battered by the pandemic
Published: Mar 25, 2022 07:47 PM
Travelers tour the Saint Francisco de Asis Square in Old Havana in Cuba, on February 28, 2022. Photo: VCG

Travelers tour the Saint Francisco de Asis Square in Old Havana in Cuba, on February 28, 2022. Photo: VCG

New hotels have popped up across Cuba during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Caribbean island ­continues to bet on tourism to drive economic growth.

Maria Rodriguez, who runs a traditional restaurant in central Havana, an area once bustling with foreign tourists taking snapshots of the eclectic architecture, hopes the newly opened hotels will attract visitors and help with the economic recovery.

"We need more tourists to arrive in Cuba," said Rodriguez, 32. "The pandemic will not last forever. The hotels are a stake in the future of this country."

Earlier this week, the Cuban government opened the Grand Aston La Habana Hotel in the city's entertainment district. Overlooking Havana's famed seafront, the Malecon, the 600-room four-star hotel features panoramic views of the ocean.

Other hotels are in different stages of development in colonial towns and seaside resorts throughout Cuba, to boost the range of accommodations and services available.

Victor Manuel Lemagne, the secretary-general of the National Hotel and Tourism Workers Union, told the state TV, "As the tourism industry rebounds, we are called on to help the country get higher earnings from tourism through better-quality service."

While Cuba received only about 500,000 foreign tourists in 2021, a fraction of the 4 million annual visitors seen prior to the pandemic, tourism authorities reported a rise in international arrivals in the first two months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

The government has included tourism as a strategic sector in its new portfolio of investment opportunities for foreign capital.

Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia said more needs to be done to draw private entrepreneurs to provide hotel facilities with a variety of services.

"Small- and medium-sized enterprises can provide our facilities with maintenance, repair and design work of very high quality," Garcia said.

With new hotels slated to open in the coming months, Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power has earmarked 24 percent of the country's 2022 national budget to the development of the tourism sector.

The government aims to build over 4,600 new hotel rooms by the end of the year, local media reported.

Jose Luis Perello, a university professor and tourism expert, said the recovery of the sector is fundamental for Cuba amid stepped up US-led economic sanctions against the island.

"No country should rely only on tourism to achieve development, but the island's tourism ­investment policy is on the right track," Perello said.