Cuba aims to go upmarket
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 26/05/2007
Action is being taken to reverse the decline in visitors, writes Charles
The Cuban government announced this week that it is to spend up to £100
million over the next three years to upgrade more than 200 resorts,
marinas, golf courses and theme parks.
The tourism minister, Manuel Marrero, said that more than 50 hotels are
to be built to combat Cuba's lack of five-star accommodation and falling
visitor numbers. A further 10 hotels are already under construction. Mr
Marrero added that the government will also improve the road
infrastructure and update the airport at Havana.
The announcement follows reports that the number of visitors to Cuba
fell last year by 100,000 to 2.2 million, while tourism continues to
This investment in tourism represents a softening of the government's
increasingly isolationist stance. Two years ago Mr Marrero announced
that workers in the tourism industry had been ordered by Fidel Castro's
regime to keep contact with foreigners to a minimum.
In a bid to strengthen the Communist Party's control of society, the
government launched a crackdown on relations between visitors and
tourist industry employees.
Cubans were told that they must seek official written permission to
attend meals or functions with foreigners, declare any gifts or tips
from tourists, and report foreign employers if they witness actions that
might threaten the regime. But few workers, it seemed, paid much heed.
Airlines such as Virgin Atlantic launched new services to Cuba last
year, hoping to take advantage of a rush of people visiting Cuba before
the changes that are anticipated to follow President Castro's death. The
Cuban leader, 80, is reportedly in poor health. However, that upsurge in
visitors has not materialised.
The Cuban government has blamed the falling number of tourists on the
rising cost of oil and the appreciation in value of the Cuban peso,
which has reduced investment in hotels.
The president's regime has always considered tourism "a necessary evil".
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of Soviet
subsidies, tourism has been the mainstay of the economy, generating more
than £1 billion annually.
A 45-year-old trade embargo continues to prevent US tourists from
visiting Cuba and limits trade between the two countries.