THE LARGEST CARIBBEAN ISLAND GRADUALLY REOPENS ITS BORDERS IN NOVEMBER AND THROUGHOUT THE VALUE CHAIN, COMMER
Rigurous sanitary protocols applied in the destination, based on the welfare and health of visitors who choose Varadero as a vacation destination have been visiting one of the best beaches in the world
TEXT: JORGE COROMINA SÁNCHEZ PHOTO: ROLANDO PUYOL / ARCHIVO EXCELENCIAS
Atweet from the European Union Office in Cuba, dated March 20, 2020, announced to the citizens of that bloc that the island was closing its borders to international tourism, thus guaranteeing the safe departure of tourists on the island nation. "The measure will take effect from this Tuesday, March 24, for 30 extendable days," concluded the post on Twitter. But extensions came along one after another, and it was for a good reason. The world was slowly coming to a standstill at the hands of the new coronavirus pandemic, which quickly became known as COVID-19. Tourism around the world ceased, and Cuba was no exception. Eighteen months later, the largest Caribbean island informed, through a note issued by the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), that as of November 15, the gradual reopening of Cuban borders will begin, now that the situation finally allows it. Cuba has begun to control the disease, significantly cutting down on the number of daily infections and deaths. Perhaps for that reason, and unlike other Caribbean destinations that also depend heavily on tourism revenues, the island has not wanted to rush the long-awaited reopening of its leisure industry. With three vaccines already licensed for emergency use by the national regulatory authority, and awaiting approval by the World Health Organization, plus two other vaccine candidates in clinical trial phases, Cuba expects to have vaccinated just over 90% of its population by the time its borders reopen. This would place it in a privileged position in the region when it comes to reopening the floodgates to international travelers, especially from Canada and Europe, who are anxiously anticipating that moment. "Cuba has created all the necessary conditions for the expected reopening of international tourism, one of its economic underpinnings, and it has done it by betting on responsible tourism and a return to normality within the new normality,” the island nation's Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, said recently at a press conference held at the International Press Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Havana, adding that the volume of operations expected as of November 15 could allow the country to welcome 100,000 international visitors before the end of the year. So far this year, Cuba has only nabbed 200,000 foreign tourists. HEALTH AND CIVIL SECURITY ALWAYS ON CENTERSTAGE As a sought-after destination which in 2019 welcomed 4.2 million visitors, safety has always been one of Cuba's primary attributes, an element that tourists take very much into account when making a travel decision and that, in these times of pandemic, acquires much greater connotation. Any poll or travel review about Cuba speaks volumes about its culture, its colorfulness, its paradisiacal beaches, its hotels and its people. But a common denominator among travelers is always the mention of the island's safety, both in terms of citizenship and health. Meliá and Iberostar, two of the main Spanish hotel chains on the island, which have by far the largest investments in the Caribbean nation, have once again come out to bear out their commitment to the Cuban market, stressing that Cuba is a safe destination for any vacationer. Meliá's deputy regional director, Francisco Camps, declared a few weeks ago that, since the start of the coronavirus massive outbreak, the Spanish hotel company opted for defining protocols that are being implemented together with a number of measures designed by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism. "In the case of Cuba, we have important advantages, because today Cuba has several vaccine candidates and even an approved vaccine [now three], and is vaccinating its population. Some 3,500 active workers in the facilities have already had the three doses, which accounts for 95% of the total," Camps said. For its part, Iberostar, with over 25 years of presence in Cuba and some 20 hotels in the country, has inaugurated a new facility in Cayo Cruz. The Coral Level at Iberostar Selection Esmeralda, a five-star beachfront hotel in Cayo Cruz, which belongs to the company's new Coral Level concept, is the most recent opening that the company has planned in the country as part of its commitment to the destination and to remain a benchmark for quality offerings in both Cuba and the entire Caribbean. Another hotel company that keeps putting its smart money on Cuba is Muthu Hotels MGM, which has revealed that two of its properties -out of the five hotels it owns on the island- will reopen on November 1. These are the Gran Muthu Rainbow in Cayo Guillermo and the Grand Muthu Almirante Beach in Guardalavaca, Holguin. ALL TOP DESTINATIONS ARE NOW READY Varadero and Cuba's northern keys, two major underpinnings of the island's tourist development, are working hard to guarantee www.revistasexcelencias.com all the conditions for the piecemeal reopening to international tourism. Rigorous sanitary protocols applied in the destination, based on the welfare and health of visitors who choose Varadero for vacationing, have been key to ensuring the safety of tourists who, until now and mostly out of Russia, have been visiting one of the best beaches in the world. "Cuban tourism has redesigned its processes, because today, more than ever, the safety of destinations comes first and our customers are protected with the established measures, which for us is of paramount importance. Enjoyment and health are the top priorities", said the Mintur delegate in Matanzas, Ivis Fernández Peña. Varadero is currently operating at 17 percent of its full capacity, with 15 hotels in operation, but it is expected to reach 70 percent in late December, taking into account approved capacity numbers. RETURN STRATEGIES ARE ALREADY UNDERWAY On the other side of the tourism value chain, tour operators, airlines and travel agencies have already started to map out their return strategies to what is one of the most soughtafter destinations by their customers. Since October, flights have resumed between Canada and Cuba through Canadian airline OWG, covering routes to Cayo Santa María in Villa Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos in the central region, Holguín, Santa Lucía in Camagüey, and Santiago de Cuba. Another Canadian airline, Sunwing, which had resumed flights to Cuba from Toronto and Montreal back in December 2020 and was bound to cancel operations just a month later, is now announcing it is restarting flights from Ottawa to four Cuban sun-and-beach destinations in November: Cayo Coco, Holguín, Cayo Santa María and Varadero. Other airlines that have already resumed flights are Canada's Air Transat, with flights from Toronto and Montreal to Holguin, and Mexico's Viva Aerobus, with charter flights between Cancun and Cayo Coco. Overall, Cuba's Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) informed that airlift is maintained with regular airlines from Europe, such as Iberia, Air France and a group of charter flights. In addition, Cubana de Aviación has already announced the resumption of its traditional routes to Argentina and Spain, and Turkish Airlines has retaken its service to Havana. The Russian market, which for months has been visiting Cuba on a regular basis and with visible increases in numbers, will beef up trips to the island from several cities of the Russian Federation. Regarding U.S. airlines, which since 2015 have taken the lion's share of air operations in the Cuban market, they will get the green light from the Cuban authorities to resume their flights to Cuba, both to Havana and the rest of the island's international airports. As of November 15, the country's 10 international airports will be ready for the increase of flights, without taking PCR tests at the air terminals nor the mandatory quarantine for travelers entering the country as of November 7. Regarding the measures to be adopted upon arrival in the country, Cuba assures international travelers that the protocols to be in force as from the reopening will be focused on the surveillance of symptomatic patients and the taking of temperature, and the vaccination certificate presented by passengers will be recognized, although rapid tests could be carried out randomly. With all this much on the table, the only thing left to do is to wait for the announcement to be realized. Once again, Cuba stages its comeback to the realm of world tourism.