The pandemic has been a devastating blow to the tourism sector in Cuba. If before the arrival of COVID-19 the island managed to receive greater than 4 million visitors per yr — even with the measures to limit travel imposed by the Donald Trump administration —, last yr it barely exceeded a million and this yr it would be removed from the initial forecasts, which aimed to exceed 2 million at the top of December.
The truth is, in 2021 the setback shall be much more profound, since until August only slightly greater than 160,000 tourists had traveled to the country, about 2,960,000 lower than the identical period in 2019 and 824,000 lower than in the primary eight months of last yr, based on data offered weeks ago by the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR).
The major reason for this steep fall has been the strong and prolonged wave of COVID-19 in recent months ― marked by the arrival within the country of more contagious and aggressive variants of the coronavirus, resembling Beta and Delta ―, which made it essential to limit international flights and to limit tourist activity to specific destinations, resembling Varadero and Cayo Coco. And, as is likely to be expected, such a collapse has had a disastrous impact on the already dwindling coffers of the Cuban state.
Nonetheless, with the advance of the vaccination against COVID-19, in consequence of which greater than 60% of the Cuban population already has the whole immunization scheme, and an ostensible improvement within the epidemiological scenario, as reflected by official statistics, Cuba already began the de-escalation in its different territories and sectors, which shall be joined by tourism on a big scale as of November 15. And it would accomplish that — together with a change within the protocols for travelers and a “controlled” and “gradual” reopening of facilities and services — “with optimism” for the high season that’s starting, based on the sector authorities.
This was confirmed this Tuesday by Cuban Minister of Tourism Juan Carlos García during a press conference broadcast continue to exist state television. In it, he offered details on the de-escalation on this key area for the country’s funds — which incorporates, for instance, the elimination of the mandatory quarantine as of November 7 and the requirement of a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test, except for kids under 12 years of age — and on the measures that shall be applied so as to guarantee the protection of employees and guests, and stop a re-outbreak of COVID-19 destroying the advances within the confrontation with the disease and the urgent oxygenation of the Cuban economy.
“A vital challenge”
In his appearance, García emphasized that Cuban tourism is concentrated on the upcoming operations that can open as of mid-November, and for which the country’s 10 international airports are already “ready,” and on offering a “secure and secure” quality service” that catalyzes the specified recovery, each within the state and non-state sectors. As well as, he forecasted the arrival of greater than 100,000 visitors in the ultimate two months of the yr, a figure that remains to be low, but at the identical time “a crucial challenge,” within the opinion of the minister, who relatively than talk concerning the losses caused to his sector resulting from the pandemic, said he preferred to “look ahead” and “what should be anticipated so as to make the extent of satisfaction higher.”
Based on what was reported by the pinnacle of MINTUR, the announcement of the reopening of borders and larger-scale tourist operations has had “a really favorable response,” and tour operators have requested more capacities than initially planned, while there are also more requests for flight and a reactivity of air connectivity, each from regular and charter airlines. This, he said, has occurred in each traditional markets, resembling Europe and Canada, in addition to other emerging markets which have been gaining increasingly more prominence, amongst which he highlighted Russia, a rustic that practically capitalized on the limited hotel capacities in operation on the island during 2021.
Similarly, García assured that Cuba “doesn’t discriminate against any country” and is even open to travel and tourism from the U.S. if the federal government of that nation allowed it, in an explicit nod to a market that grew exponentially for the island until the Trump administration closed the lock. Along the identical lines, he commented that the island is in the most effective position to perform more negotiations with tour operators, hotel chains, and airline and cruise corporations, regardless that the latter cannot arrive, a minimum of for now, from U.S. ports.
“We don’t think that on the fifteenth the country’s capacities shall be full, but we will progressively have an early winter. It depends upon how the markets react, however the scenario is increasingly favorable and we’re optimistic,” reiterated the minister, who identified that to face the new season “we haven’t stood idly by” throughout the stoppage attributable to the pandemic. For this, he said, they’ve worked to “diversify the Cuban tourism product,” with the design of new offers beyond the normal areas of sun and beach, and nature, to also promote others resembling health tourism ― with the COVID-19 vaccines as an attraction to benefit from ― and the cultural one, in alliance with the ministries of each sectors.
He also identified that as of November 15, the circuits and the mobility of tourists throughout the country shall be restored, 4,000 new rooms shall be added to the present hotel plant on the island, and that work has been done on the present ones to extend their comfort and to adapt the facilities to the “new normal” conditions imposed by COVID-19, in addition to to expand connectivity possibilities, not only in five-star hotels but in addition in lower-category hotels and other extra-hotel centers. This, amongst other things, will make it possible to benefit from the potential of mobile applications and online services and payments.
And regarding payments, he also recalled the already launch of prepaid cards in freely convertible currency, which might be bought by tourists to buy services, as a substitute for using the dollar in money, officially vetoed by the Cuban authorities. On this regard, he clarified that other international currencies resembling the Canadian dollar, the euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen and the Mexican peso remain authorized, at all times on the official exchange rate.
Measures, protocols and national tourism
The pinnacle of the MINTUR dedicated a superb a part of what he said to the press to detail the measures and protocols that shall be implemented in Cuba in the approaching weeks, with a view to the large-scale reopening of flights and international tourism. Amongst them, the already advanced elimination of the mandatory quarantine for international travelers arriving within the country, which is able to come into effect on November 7. Travelers shall be required to offer a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or a negative PCR result performed inside 72 hours prior to travel. The exception, in each cases, shall be children under 12 years of age, who may enter the island without these requirements.
Within the case of vaccination certificates, the minister identified that those of all vaccines which have been certified by the corresponding regulatory agencies shall be allowed, which opens the door to drugs not yet validated by the World Health Organization (WHO), just like the Russian Sputnik V. And he added that airlines have been insisted to confirm the evidence that travelers are immunized or, failing that, have a negative PCR.
García also said that on the border, visitors shall be required to present the Declaration of Traveler’s Health and epidemiological surveillance shall be maintained at airports and other points of entry, where random PCR tests shall be carried out and the looks of suspicious symptoms of COVID-19 shall be monitored. The identical will occur in hotel facilities, where, he said, “medical care is being strengthened” and measures already implemented throughout the pandemic have been maintained, resembling the mandatory use of a mask in closed spaces and customary areas, limited capability in restaurants and other places, disinfection of hands and surfaces, and the requirement of physical distancing, amongst others.
Within the event that a visitor is detected with symptoms, they shall be referred to a healthcare center and a diagnostic test shall be performed. And the hotel-hospitals for tourists who test positive shall be maintained. Meanwhile, the owners of the rental houses ― who’re also reopening their doors ― shall be accountable for reporting “immediately” if any of their guests shows signs of being sick, while, based on García, the health areas within the communities wherein these houses are positioned are accountable for the epidemiological surveillance of the tourists staying in them.
As for Cuban travelers residing on the island, they have to go to the doctor’s office of their area inside a period of not more than 48 hours after their arrival, and have “a follow-up” by their health area. As well as, those not vaccinated will undergo an antigen test on the seventh day of their arrival in Cuba and “in the event that they present symptoms, they shall be treated as a suspicious case,” based on the minister.
Finally, García announced that on November 15 tourist facilities for the domestic market will even reopen, although some tourist destinations and territories shall be opened before that date. Thus, as of next October 25, the famous Varadero beach resort will open its doors to Cubans from outside Matanzas, at the identical time that “all opened facilities,” including those who operate for the international market, resembling those positioned on the keys to the north of Cuba, will start being marketed.
This reopening, based on the pinnacle of the MINTUR, will even be carried out in compliance with “all established protocols” and can increase “as interprovincial and inter-municipal mobility increases, taking into consideration the situation of every territory.” The plan, he said, is “to start recovering our customs, to give you the chance to go to relatives and go on vacations, in addition to to get better the economic activity of the country,” after the dark period of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it would be time that can finally say how effective or not the planned strategies and protocols are, and to what extent the de-escalation of the tourism sector justifies the optimism of the authorities and, with them, of many Cubans.