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Juan Carlos Garcia Granda is looking forward to the day when Canadians can enjoy a cup of coffee at a Tim Horton’s in Cuba. And while Cuba’s tourism minister wasn’t specifically rolling up to Canada last week to announce a win for coffee drinkers from this country (even if local coffee is considerably better), he was making a point that Cuba is increasingly solving its supply problems – accentuated during the pandemic – not least through foreign investment that is now actively encouraged.

The issue was illustrated to Travel Industry TODAY during a visit in January when beer was sometimes hard to find in local retail outlets. Cuba couldn’t brew enough of the stuff itself to meet demand, Garcia Granda told TODAY, but has now solved the problem, in part by importing more foreign suds.

Of course, due to US prohibition on trade with Cuba, getting foreign goods is not an easy situation to navigate, but the Cuban government has moved for the first time to allow foreign investment at the wholesale, not just retail, level, and is negotiating with trans-national suppliers to import more goods that are lacking on the island.

The minister expects two to three major firms to be on board by the end of the year.

And while foreign investment was never verboten in Cuba (19 international hotel chains are currently operating on the island) Garcia Granda says there has been “a step forward” in small- and medium-size business development, allowing for more private sector accommodation like B&Bs, but which also “plays an important role in increasing the quality of services (for visitors).”

“We are positive that this (supply) weakness will be solved forever,” Garcia Granda declared, adding that he is even hopeful that it will soon lead to Canadians being able to soon sip their double-doubles while basking in the Cuban sun.

New-look Cuba

Another historic “weakness” in Cuba – Internet service – has similarly been under assault by the Cuban government in recent years, with significant improvements made in hotels in particular. And while past visitors may be skeptical, TODAY can confirm that, based our recent visit, the (free) WiFi we experienced at the Melia Internacional in Varadero – from room to pool to beach – was every bit as good as the Rogers at home (not a high bar to be sure, but you get the point).

With the media in Toronto: Yanier Castellano, consul general of Cuba in Toronto; Juan Carlos Garcia Granda, Minister of Tourism; Lessner Gomez, Director Cuba Tourist Board; Nieves Ricardo, Marketing CTB; Pilar de la Caridad Alvarez, Marketing Director MINTUR; Hector Igarza, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada

And the digital revolution is set to continue, Garcia Granda says, with expectations that such services as digital tourist visas and hotel check-outs will be up and running by the Fall.

Along with supply and digital services, Cuba is continuing an unprecedented image makeover designed to appeal to visitors and to “move up in the market.”

While sun and sand, history, culture, and friendly people will always remain the core four of Cuba’s holiday experience, the country’s tourist board is working hard to encourage and develop other platforms, such as health/wellness; active and outdoor, plus other specialized tours; eco/nature; and meetings and incentives (MICE).

The latter, notes the minister, is not a big market for Cuba from Canada, but has plenty of potential to grow.

Garcia Granda says he is also encouraging Canadian tour operators to offer escorted tours, besides traditional all-inclusive fly-and-flop options, as well as combo tours that pair beach and sightseeing (for example Varadero-Havana).

To date in 2023, Garcia Granda says 290,000 Canadians – the country’s No. 1 market – have visited, representing about 80% of pre-pandemic figures in 2019.

And with similar recovery in lift, including new carriers like Swoop, this year the aim is to reach a million visitors.

“We expect,” says an enthusiastic Garcia Granda, “this year to be a very good year from Canada!”


First published at Travel Industry Today

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