A recent report by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute indicates that Cuba is currently the 3rd most popular destination that Chinese tourists are discovering. This presents an opportunity for Cuba to increase the number of Chinese tourists visiting the island from 28,000 in 2014 to target goal of 100,000 in the next two to three years. This goal might seem aggressive as China currently ranks 14th as a tourism source market for Cuba. However, 100 million Chinese tourists take overseas trips each year. Also, the commercial arm of the Cuban military, Grupo Gaviota S.A. has launched a full-scale campaign to attract tourists from China and is also undertaking the redevelopment of Cuba’s largest marina, Gaviota Varadero Marina and numerous tourist attractions. Under its control are 55 hotels with 29,400 rooms. With the anticipated increase from China and also the United States which recently reestablished diplomatic relations, Cuba hopes to have in place 85,000 hotel rooms by 2020 to meet demand.
To better understand the potential for Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean with Chinese tourists, below is a short question and answer with Daniel Meesak, Head of PR & Marketing, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.
Question: When did the Cuba and China tourism relationship get established?
The warm tourism relationship between China and Cuba traces back to when Cuba was the first nation in the Western hemisphere to gain Approved Destination Status (ADS) from the Chinese government in 2003. The first Cuba-China forum was held in 2013 and aimed at promoting Cuban tourism services to attract a larger number of Chinese tourists to the country. Plans for training tour guides fluent in Mandarin and improvements in flight connections between China and Cuba were also set in place. Moreover, the Cuban Central Bank authorized UnionPay to operate on the island and make it easier for Chinese tourists to withdraw cash at Cuban banks and ATMs with their UnionPay cards.
A visit to Cuba by Xi Jinping in September 2014 had the purpose to boost cooperation between China and Cuba, and a special focus was set on foreign investment from China. 29 bilateral agreements were signed, including agreements regarding the tourism sector. The delegation also included Chinese 50 entrepreneurs exploring investment and business opportunities in Cuba. In other words, China and Cuba have a good relationship within the tourism sector, and it can be expected to be further strengthened by the agreements and initiatives that were entered during the last few years.
Question: How is Cuba as a tourist destination positioned to potential Chinese tourists?
Cuba is often sold as one of many destinations in package tours by tour operators in China, as it can be easily combined with nearby Caribbean destinations like Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico that recently introduced visa waiver- and visa-free policies. It is also popular to combine a trip to Cuba with Mexico, other Caribbean island nations, South America, and Canada. There are many different combinations to choose from that include Cuba as one of the tour destinations. With the Caribbean being a long-haul destination from China, most of these tours last at least 11 days and cost around US$8,100.
Cuba – Tourists in vintage cars along the Malecon in Havana. Photo: ©Flickr/Gerry Balding.
Question: What sort of activities appeal to Chinese tourists in Cuba?
Activities among Chinese tourists when visiting Cuba range from sightseeing, beach holidays, luxury shopping, shopping for Cuban specialities such as rum, cigars and coffee, and visiting craft workshops. A growing number of Chinese middle-aged and senior generations are travelling to Cuba for “Red tourism” in order to evoke old communist and nostalgic memories. Besides this, Cuba is increasingly building a name as a health tourism destination. A growing number of Chinese visitors choose Cuba for healthcare tours, where medical treatment services, especially for lung cancer, diabetes and strokes are of high quality, service-oriented and comparatively cheap.
Question: Overall, what does Cuba need to do to reach its goal of attracting 100,000 Chinese tourists in the next 2 to 3 years? Is it as simple as more marketing? And if so, what kind of marketing?
With appropriate product adaptation and good marketing, China Outbound Tourism Research Institute believes that Chinese tourism to Cuba can grow by approximately 50% year on year, which would bring them into the region of 100,000 by 2018. The main point is product adaptation; customizing tourism products in a way that is more appealing to Chinese tourists. For example, focusing more on culture and historical sights – and less on beaches. Joint offers from several islands together and better regional flight connections between the islands without the need to go back to Miami would also be very helpful in attracting more Chinese visitors.
Cuba – Carnival-style parade in Havana. Photo: ©Flickr/Alan Kotok.
Top photo: Cuba – The Cathedral of The Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception better known as Havana Cathedral in Plaza de la Catedral. Photo: ©Flickr/Andrzej Wrotek.