10 OCT 018: Canadian visits to Cuba may be lagging this year, but the island’s love for this nation is as strong as ever. “Canada continues to be our main market for tourism,” Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, told a trade audience in Toronto last week during his annual visit to this country, adding that it wouldn’t be so without the “valuable contributions” of travel agencies, tour operators and hotel chains.

Despite the eight percent dip from this country so far this year, the minister is hopeful that a strong fourth quarter will help bring Canadian numbers back to historical averages of close to a million visitors annually. Already, September was up 75 percent over last year, though it should be noted that 12 months ago, the Caribbean island was suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irma.

Marrero said that lift to Cuba is expected to remain steady from Canada this winter and could increase if demand rises.

Overall this year, Cuba has welcomed over 3.5 million foreign visitors, representing 97.4 percent of visitors welcomed in all of 2017 and constituting a 19 percent increase from 2016.

And with such record growth, Marrero – speaking in Spanish but translated by Cuba Tourist Board Canadian director Eloy Govea – vowed that the country was forging full steam ahead in its tourism sector.

For example, the process of modernizing Cuba’s airports has begun, said the minister, as well as “progress” made on Internet connectivity, which can be spotty as anyone who has visited knows. Food standards and supplies are also being actively improved.

Unquestionably the biggest boom will be in accommodation, with Cuba’s nearly 70,000 rooms (66 percent of which are four and five stars) expected to increase to 100,000 by 2030, including 224 new properties in the pipeline. At the same time, existing hotels will continue to be modernized.

Already, recent new hotel and resort openings including the Iberostar Grand Hotel Packard, the Paseo del Prado, the Segundo Frente and Hotel Floreale and another 5,000 rooms are expected by the end of 2019, including two new five-stars in Havana – just in time for the city’s 500th anniversary celebrations.

In addition to the development news, and a shout out to the island’s award-winning beaches and a unique culture, heritage and history that “differentiates us from other destinations in the region,” Marrero touted Cuba’s safety and hospitality as its major drawing cards for Canadians.

“These are the main characteristics that distinguish Cuba… and the essential qualities for Canadian tourist to continue choosing Cuba as one of their preferred destinations,” he said.

Safety and feeling secure, he said, was paramount, noting, “Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world. There is no organized crime, drug cartels or kidnappings.”

And count on Cuba to stay that way, he said, also promising “the highest degree of professionalism and hospitality,” and a country and tourism industry that “every day develops more and more.”

“We,” the minister vowed, “will never fail you.”

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