Cuba intends to close 2019 with 5.1 million foreign visitors, representing its twelfth year of growth, predicted Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero.
According to the Minister, 2018 will close with 4.75 million tourists, 850,000 of whom will have traveled on regular cruises.
In December 2018, Marrero said there was an accumulated growth of six percent in the number of visitors, which reversed the decrease experienced after Hurricane Irma early in the high season of 2017.
Although an effort had been made to have hotel facilities ready to receive vacationers, impressions of damage caused by the weather event continued, he said.
Besides, measures taken by President Donald Trump's administration to tighten the U.S. blockade against Cuba and some inefficiencies in the sector also contributed to the lower visitor arrivals, he added.
U.S. tourism stopped its decline in November 2018 and is currently up 47 percent, much of which is the result of increased cruise activity.
Marrero also considered that though 2019 could be a serious challenge for the sector, the more than five million tourists will represent a growth of 7.4 percent.
He also emphasized, for the first time, it is estimated that tourism incomes exceed three billion dollars, an increase of 17 percent. Regarding investments, the Minister said that thanks to the introduction of a new business modality in hotel management and marketing contracts, including financing, the emblematic Riviera and Habana Libre hotels in Havana could be revived.
The official acknowledged that for Havana, the development of high standard tourism is being boosted with five-star facilities such as the recently opened Iberostar Grand Packard and the Prado y Malecon, scheduled to open in late 2019.
Havana has 12,000 rooms, with 44 percent in the two and three-star categories, and there is an associated market for those businesspeople needing more comfort, he remarked.
Regarding the upcoming May celebration of the International Tourism Fair, FitCuba 2019, industry authorities in Havana expect to recover 1,121 rooms currently out of service and the opening of 12 new accommodation facilities.
The minister stressed that 36 hotels are being built throughout the country, adding, in the mid-term, some 18,000 new rooms to the more than 65,000 already existing in the island.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.