Cuba is expecting more tourists in 2015 than the country has ever seen before.
This year, the number of tourists and revenues the country is expected to surpass those of 2014, when the Cuban tourism industry reaped US $2,7 billion (A $3,41 billion).
The surge of growth in this sector is due to recent changes in the island’s foreign policies. The historically isolated Communist nation recently eased up on trade relations with the U.S., and is slowly opening its doors to international business, foreign trade and foreign tourism.
Since President Obama’s December announcement that the U.S. government would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel into the country, Americans have been entering Cuban borders in their biggest numbers since Castro’s 1959 revolution.
In 2014, Cuba received more than three million visitors. According to the Tourism Ministry, this was a 5,3 per cent increase from the year prior and an upward trend that has continued in the first quarter of 2015.
“Cuban tourism is in its best moment,” said Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero.
To accommodate the rapidly growing tourism sector, Cuba is now in the midst of 53 new development projects to build four and five star hotels. This will be added to the already existing 61,200 rooms in some 300 hotels in the country.
Even so, booking a hotel in Cuba is not an easy task. “You can scarcely find a decent hotel in Havana in May,” said Steve Cox, executive director of International Expeditions. “Even June is tight.”
According to other travel organizers, there are also shortages of guides, language translators and even buses. Stuck for travel space, visitors are resorting to renting rooms or sometimes houses from Cuban residents.
Geo Darder, who organizes trips to Cuba through the Miami-based nonprofit Copperbridge Foundation, said Cuban authorities were beginning to promote alternatives to Havana and Trinidad. The idea is to attract tourists to lesser known destinations, like the colonial town of Remedios.
“It makes sense,” said Mr. Darder. “Just as you can only fit a size-7 foot into a size-7 shoe, there are only so many people you can fit into one city.”