Photo: Cuban tourism
Cuba on Tuesday kicked off its 2014 International Tourism Fair with the challenge of taking advantage of opportunities provided by the new Foreign Investment Law to increase the competitiveness of the sector that constitutes the island’s second-largest source of income.
The event was inaugurated by Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero, French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Fleur Pellerin and the general secretary of the World Tourism Organization, Taleb Rifai.
The fair comes a few weeks after the approval of a new foreign investment law that is designed to attract more foreign capital as Cuba strives to “update” its socialist system.
“We’re working on the implementation of this new law, which - without a doubt - will improve competitiveness in Cuba in the Caribbean zone and also will guarantee the increase in quality and diversification of our tourist offerings,” Marrero said at the opening ceremony.
He recalled that the law is crafted to attract foreign investments via new tax breaks and more flexible labor policies.
The Cuban tourist sector already has significant participation by foreign investors via 26 mixed companies operating 15 hotels with more than 5,600 rooms.
Marrero did not hide the fact that the international economic crisis and the effects of the U.S. embargo have affected the forecasts for development of the sector, which in 2013 was unable to meet the goal of three million foreign visitors that had been predicted by Cuban authorities.
But international arrivals are up 5 percent so far this year compared with the same period in 2013.
In addition to having France as a guest of honor, with 10 stands, Fitcuba will devote itself this year to promoting the city of Havana as “the country’s most complete” destination due to its ability to welcome conventional tourists, as well as events, businesses, cruise ships and so-called health tourists, who come for medical treatment, among others.
International tourism provided Cuba with some $1.8 billion in income in 2013, according to government figures.
Canada is the main tourist-sending nation to the communist island, providing more than one million travelers last year, followed by Britain and Germany.