“If the numbers continue like this and airlines and tour operators continue to show interest in Cuba, then we’ll have a similar winter to 2019,” said Lessner Gomez, Director of the Cuba Tourist Board, which hosted a special trade reception last night, Oct. 14, in Mississauga. “And now, without any travel restrictions in Cuba, and Canada dropping Covid measures at the border, we’re expecting even more visitors from Canada, our top market.”
Cuba first reopened to tourism on July 1, 2020, one of the first countries to do so thanks to an early vaccination rollout. Earlier this year, the destination lifted all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccination mandates, quarantines, testing and masking. A new website has also been launched to facilitate visitors’ arrival in Cuba, allowing them to fill out their custom declaration form and health affidavit 48 hours prior to arrival.
As Gomez reiterated throughout the night, Cuba is fully open and ready to welcome back Canadians. All hotels and resorts have reopened their doors, even those in Pinar del Rio that were directly impacted by Hurricane Ian just last month. And following the recent launch of the destination’s new promotional campaign, ‘UNICA Cuba,’ Cuba is poised for a robust winter season featuring an extensive lineup of new offerings.
100% Wi-Fi connectivity at hotels
The destination is on track to have 100% of its hotels offer free Wi-Fi by year’s end. Currently, 347 five- and four-star hotels are already offering complimentary Wi-Fi in their lobbies and pool areas, many also in guestrooms, with all other standard two- and three-star hotels doing the same by the end of 2023. Most VIP sections at Cuba’s airports also offer free Wi-Fi connection.
Cuba’s dual currency system, in place since 1994, came to an official end in January 2021. With the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) now out of circulation, Gomez says payment at hotels and resorts have been simplified for travellers. Payment can be made with Debit or Visa credit cards (no cash), while those without a credit card can purchase pre-paid cards in Cuba at most hotels and tourist establishments.
The official currency now is the Cuban peso (CUP), which tourists only need if leaving tourist zones, in which case they can exchange their Canadian dollars into CUP at airports, banks, hotels and exchange houses, known as CADECAS.
New hotels to book
Not only did Cuba take the time during the pandemic shutdown to upgrade and renovate many of its hotels, it also continued to heavily invest in opening brand new ones. These include El Tesoro del Atlantico Hotel by Gaviota Hotel Group in Holguin, which opened in the new destination of El Ramon de Antilla Peninsula, as well as Gran Aston Paredon Hotel by Aston Hotels in Jardines del Rey located 30 minutes from Cayo Coco airport.
Other new openings include The Mystique Regis Havana by Royalton Hotels in Havana; Sol Caribe Beach by Melia Cuba Hotels in Varadero; and Melia Trinidad Peninsula, by Melia Cuba Hotels in Trinidad.
Also notable is Blue Diamond Resorts’ takeover of Cayo Largo’s 11 properties, four of which will open to guests starting Nov. 4, 2022. As Sunwing’s hotel management company, Blue Diamond Resorts is Cuba’s second largest hotel chain in number of rooms, behind Meliá and ahead of Iberostar.
New travel guides app
Set to launch at the end of 2022 is a new travel guide app that allows users to build their own travel itineraries and make reservations for tours, hotels and other services. According to Gomez, the new app can be used by travel agents as a valuable research tool when building client itineraries.
“If someone walks into a travel agency and asks an agent for restaurant recommendations near their hotel, the agent can simply go inside the app and see which restaurants have the best reviews – it’s very easy,” said Gomez.
Agent certification and appreciation
Launching in 2023 is the new Cuba Travel Specialist program that rewards travel agents with a host of benefits. These include: official certification as a Cuba Specialist by the Ministry of Tourism of Cuba; VIP on arrivals and departures at all airports in Cuba; VIP invitation to most fam trips with the Cuba Tourist Board; free upgrade at all hotels in Cuba; discount on local excursions in Cuba; annual recognition as a top seller, with a one-week all-inclusive vacation prize; and a listing as a top seller on www.gocuba.ca.
When asked what his message to travel agents would be heading into the busy winter season, Gomez said it would be a simple note of thanks.
“Thank you for the support that you’ve shown to Cuba before the pandemic, during the pandemic and now after the pandemic,” he said. “I want to reassure them that when they send their clients to Cuba, they will be safe and well taken care of. At least two or three times a week, I’m knocking on the doors of travel agencies to give agents my card. And I tell them, if you have a client going to Cuba, please let me know and they will be treated like a VIP.”
For more information about travel to Cuba, go to https://gocuba.ca/en/.