16 MAY 2018: I’m back! Back from my favourite conference of the year - FITCuba 2018, the 38th edition which took place in the Cayos of Villa Clara, Cuba’s newest tourist destination. Where is it? 300 hundred kilometres east of Havana, and just as this area was a refuge for pirates in the 16th Century - today it is a refuse for tourists, who, like Ernest Hemingway in the 50’s find it a perfect place to unwind. This is the beach your clients dream about in February.

Resort guests rave about the gorgeous white, sugar fine beaches and crystal clear calm waters.

There were 3,000 participants from 52 countries, and 140 of them were international, and local Press. Cuba had 4.7 million visitors last year, a 16.2% increase from 2016. Canadians make up a quarter of those numbers 1,300 million of us.

This was my fifth FITCuba, the second one that has taken place in the Cayos of Villa Clara. It is also my fifth trip to this lovely area, and it brings back memories of following a whole plane load of agent’s last November to show everybody that the area was ready for company after Hurricane Irma did tremendous damage to the resorts and the causeway. Sunwing, a good friend to Cuba brought the five of us from English Canada (as the Cubans call us) to the conference.

Both ways, Sunwing was on time, service was friendly, and I loved the Mac and Cheese.

This FITCuba was not only to relaunch the Villa Clara Cayos, but also to show off the progress since the Cays were connected to the main land in 1995 by the causeway.

In 1999 there were 24 rooms, today there are 10,572 rooms in 17 hotels. The infrastructure is amazing. The desalination plant uses four reverse osmosis modules which will contribute 50 litres of water per second to the 140 liters of water per second that are pumped from the main land.

Five treatment plants are operating with the liquid wastes generated from the hotels, which produce between 20-30 thousand cubic meters a month of reused water for gardening purposes.

The Cayos of Villa Clara form part of the World’s Bisosphere Reserve of Buena Vista, so a special effort has been implemented in new investments for the processing and recycling of all kinds of wastes resulting from the hotel operations.

The press rode in five coaches with two motorcycle police in front, and one behind, with a police car bringing up the rear. It was quite the procession, and of course, never left on time, as all the press has to be on the coaches before they start – hence we ranged between half an hour and three quarters of an hour late each time.

I love sitting as close to the front as possible so I can watch the motorcycle police motion cars, trucks, and horse carts to pull to a stop at the side of the highway. One of the Police even motioned to a beagle, who actually stopped. Who didn’t pay any attention was an elderly man in a wheelchair who was wheeling himself down the middle of the main road in a small town. The coaches stopped and waited.

That trip, we were going to the town of Sagua La Grande in the centre of the province of Villa Clara. It was being inaugurated as a tourist town. All the citizens including the children were given the day off to celebrate and it was certainly a party. It would be a nice day trip, or somewhere for your clients to stay a night. It has some historic sites and new hotels that are well worth a visit.

At a press conference Janet Ayala, Mintur director of communications told us the city has undergone redevelopment and now features two new hotels (El Palacio de Arena and Hotel Sagua la Grande) as well as the Gran Rey and El Alambique bar/restaurants. Although most of us were not familiar with this area, we were told that in its heyday, it had the largest number of hotels in the whole central region. This area has a lot of history, and for your clients who want the “real Cuba” it is a great choice.

I was one of a handful of International journalists invited to accompany the Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz to the newest tourism destination Cayo Esquivel. This small cay has the foundations of old buildings and until the early 60’s it had dozens of summer houses and a couple of hotels. Later it had a campground. Eventually, it was illegal to disembark there - even for fishermen.

We took a catamaran to the Cayo where a brand-new dock was waiting, and then walked a short distance to a new bar/restaurant on the beach. Lunch was leisurely and relaxed. Dotted with coconut trees this beautiful beach will be a new tourist destination the minister told me in a private interview. “There will be 2,000 luxury rooms in three hotels built by 2021. The airport will be Santa Clara, and guests will come to the Cayo by boat”.

As usual the close of FITCuba 2018 was a party, a huge wonderful party. Next year FITCUBA2019 will be in Havana, and the guest host will be Spain.

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Sam Ion

The expert on All Inclusives, Sam delivers up-to-date info on alternate Wednesdays in her column Not Just All Inclusives.

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