http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com | by LUZ MARINA FORNIELES SANCHEZ
Today, tourism is one of the most dynamic economic activities around the planet which has contributed to a steady development in this area in a number of countries despite the unfavourable consequences of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Until that moment, few companies had achieved such a prolonged boom. Since the 80s, tourism had demonstrated its stability and has kept afloat in spite of international financial crisis.
According to experts, for the first time in 50 years, tourism could not recover immediately.
September 11 events had an unquestionable repercussion in the industry of tourism in world economy. People were afraid to travel, several airlines broke, markets contracted, and the price of plane tickets and fuel increased. Today, a barrel of oil costs near $60 – always with rising tendencies.
Due to September 11 events, there was a severe restriction in the movement of visitors at international level. Cuba was also affected by this situation and its plans in the reception of tourists were not fulfilled.
In Cuba, tourism achieved a great development during the 90s. Despite the prevailing difficulties, this sector was the only one that exhibited the annual growth rate of nearly 20 per cent.
This development in the industry of tourism brought about evolution in many other areas. It’s condition as pillar of the island’s economy was shared with a boosting of foreign inversion and a reorientation towards foreign commerce.
Taking into account the local potentials and the manifest requirements of that period, Cuba decided to give top-priority to this sector. By then, Cuba had just entered a decade of harsh economic crisis provoked by the falling of the European Socialist block, including the Soviet Union, and by the intensification of the US blockade against the island.
In the middle of a growing shortage of supplies, tourism became Cuba’s salvation thanks to its rapid development. When talking about the benefits of tourism, we are obliged to acknowledge its dynamic contributions in hard currency, its role as a major source for employment and as the driving force behind the activities of another group of industries.
Considered as the oil of 21st century, tourism has become the salvation for many countries’ economies, including Cuba which has incorporated it in its strategy for the national recovery since last decade with successful results.
This audacious step has been rewarded by a steady increase of profits in the 90s. Today, tourism has become the mainstay of Cuban economy.
In early 1990, there were only 327,000 visitors per 12,000 rooms, whereas in 2005 some 2,319,000 tourists visited the island. This represented an increase of 13.2 per cent in visits and a raise of 10.7 per cent in incomes from tourism.
Fifteen years ago, Cuba occupied the 23rd position of tourist destinations in the western hemisphere (including United States and Canada). Today, Cuba has the eighth position, only surpassed by the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic.
According to Cuban Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero Cruz, the island has had a tourist expansion of 14 per cent in the last fifteen years which is considered spectacular by experts.
“The development of tourism in Cuba has been the most significant and dynamic among the 25 main Latin American tourist destinations in that period,” said Marrero.
Cuban hotel industry has also undergone substantial changes: there are 266 hotels with 42,612 rooms – 72 per cent of them have 4 and 5 stars category. The staff is made up by some 80,000 workers, 20,000 of them have higher education degrees.
Designing with nature and culture, not on nature and without culture, this has been one of the top priorities of physic planning. Along the years this priority has also become an imperative to preserve and to develop the local patrimony for tourist use.
On the basis of a study carried out in 1990, it was estimated the potential existence of some 67 poles with over 182,000 rooms for the sector of tourism. From that year on, those data have raised up to 93 poles and 44 tourist centers with 209,000 rooms.
There are 16 regions along the island with possibilities for tourist development – though 10 have superior prospects such as Varadero, Jardines del Rey, Camaguey northern coast, HolguÌn northern coast, Santiago de Cuba, Cuban south-central coast and the Canarreos archipelago.
These sites have a potential estimated on 164,000 rooms for tourism – 78 per cent of national total.
Cuba already has 10 international airports where 93 foreign and regular airlines operate – in 1990, only 18 airlines functioned – connecting the island with 40 cities and capitals around the world.
During the last year, Cuba has signed agreements with prestigious companies in the sector of tourism, despite the aggressive policy of the United States against the island. There are some 14 hotels with 5,530 rooms in hands of joint ventures and it is expected an increase up to 7,600.
Cuba has also 50 hotels with 18,779 rooms managed by 12 foreign companies – most of them from Spain. Contrary to false commentaries diffused abroad, foreign inversions for the development of hotel industry in the island have been quite reduced.
It was in this sector where Cuba firstly accepted foreign capital in 1987.
Today, some 300 joint ventures are successfully established in Cuba in several areas. Cuba holds an average of the 80 per cent of assets in the sector of tourism.
Due to the economic war of US against the island along the past 45 years, Cuba’s losses are estimated at over $82,000m.
US interventionist and extraterritorial policy has greatly affected socially and economically the island, a banned territory for any US citizen.
“It’s true that so far Washington has ignored the United Nations’ call for the lifting of the blockade against Cuba, but we will not despair,” said Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque who has talked on the progress Cuba would experience if the US stopped its aggressive policy.
“For example, if Cuba received five million US tourists per year, that would represent extra income of more than $7,000m,” pointed out Perez Roque.
Without the scourge of the US blockade, tourism in Cuba could take nearly $576m during the first year.
In addition, the island could take another extra $70m per year from a half million tourists traveling by cruisers. Each seven days some 80 cruisers navigate around the Cuban archipelago.
Tourism is vital for the revival of the island’s economy, that’s why US successive administrations since 1959 have implemented a number of measures and laws aimed to reduce Cuba’s national income.
That’s why the US government has banned its citizens to visit the island even when this new regulation violates the US constitutional law on free movement.
According to statistics, the 80 per cent of US citizens who travelled to the Caribbean visited Cuba.
This economic war also prevents the use of US credit cards and the US dollar for bank transactions which brings about more difficulties and expenses for tourists.
On the other hand, Cuba has not access to most of international booking systems because they were patented in the US. This affects efficiency and reduces the number of potential visitors.
Through the Helms-Burton Law, passed in 1996, Washington has also put pressure on businessmen interested in investing in this sector in the island.
Nonetheless, this project has completely failed US expectations. Many foreign companies have kept on investing in Cuba since then, among them, a Spanish transnational that has built near 14,000 rooms in Cayo Coco, one of the main tourist poles of the island.
There have also been threats against those tour operators and companies already investing in Cuba as well as terrorist activities in several tourist facilities.
According to surveys, Cuba is not the only country affected by the blockade; the US could also take large income from the development of its tourist industry, the creation of new work places and the acquisition of new clients in the agricultural sector.
In 2004, Bush administration reinforced its aggressive policy against the island through the implementation of new economic and political measures against Cuba and Cuban residents in the US.
The new regulations include limitations on the remittance of money to the island, ban on Cuban Americans from visiting their families in Cuba for a period of 3 years, and limitations on the cash they can spend while they are in the island. Bush administration also supported actions in third countries to prevent the development of the flourishing industry of tourism in Cuba.
Despite US hostility, Cuba received over 2 million tourists from 44 nations – mainly from Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Mexico-in 2004 and a similar number of visitors in 2005.
During that period, there were also factors that contributed to the development of tourism such as the inauguration of the “Virgin” British airline and the “Neo” Italian one, the annual seminar of the French tourist industry and the launching of a world catalogue in Varadero by the “TUI” German agency.
With world tourism growing, Cuba stands out in the Caribbean.
International experts recognised the flourishing of tourism around the world despite the devastating effects of natural disasters. They also have chosen Cuba among the main destinations in the Caribbean.
The secretary of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), Francesco Frangialli, comments in his bulletin “Barometer on World Tourism” that tourism increased last year in a 5.5 per cent.
During 2005, some 133.1 million people traveled to the American continent. Among them, 89.4 million went to North America, 19.2 million to the Caribbean, 6.6 to Central America, and 18 million to South America.
Venezuela and Colombia stands out in Latin America with the 23 per cent and the 21.8 per cent respectively of total visitors in the region.
In the Caribbean, visits raised a 4.7 per cent. Though several nations in the area reduced their incomes from tourism, Cuba and Saint Vincent exhibited increases of 13.2 per cent and 16.4 per cent respectively.
In 2005, 808 million tourists traveled around the world despite natural disasters that have negative effects on the security of travelers.
Frangialli pointed out that though today’s climate of insecurity and uncertainty have directly affected tourism, this sector has not still collapsed.
According to the WTO, it is expected an increase in the sector between four and five percent in 2006 under the slogan “Travel without fear” and with the spirit of developing a sustainable tourism especially in poor countries.