Cuba hopes 10,000 new hotel rooms will attract tourists
Ray Sanchez | Direct from Havana
7:28 AM EDT, March 21, 2008
Hoping to lure more vacationers to its white sands and turquiose waters,
Cuba plans to build 30 new hotels over the next two years.
The plan, revealed this week by the communist island's Tourism Ministry,
would increase the number of rooms for international tourists from
46,000 to 56,000. More than 12,000 hotel rooms are in Havana, spread
across 62 hotels.
Since president Raul Castro officially took power in February, the
capital has been abuzz with speculation that the government would soon
do away with the ban on Cubans staying in tourists hotels. But a tourism
official said there's been no change in that policy.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Raul Castro was among those who
pursuaded his reluctant brother Fidel to open Cuba to tourists as a
source of hard currency. The island went from receiving just 340,000
tourists in 1994 to 2.3 million in 2005.
But business has fell slightly to 2.1 million tourists last year, due to
soaring tour prices and aging resorts.
"The place is amazing but so expensive," said Frank, 45, a financial
adviser from Central Florida, strolling the cobble-stone streets of Old
Havana. "And some of the hotels, even gems like the Nacional, could
definitely use a facelift." He asked that his last name not be used
because US law prohibits most Americans from visiting the island.
The hotels will be built as joint ventures with foreign companies,
mostly from Spain and China. Ten of the hotels will be in the capital,
including Hemingway Marina, Old Havana and Tarara Beach.
The capital, the main destination for foreign tourists, along with the
Varadero beach resort generates 70 percent of the island's tourism
dollars. The new construction coincides with plans to build dozens of
dozens of four- and five-star resorts as well as trendy boutique hotels
in an effort to lure more upscale tourists.