On the morning of December 30, another record in the island’s most dynamic industry was set, reaching the milestone of four million international tourist arrivals over the course of the year. The encouraging statistic shows that the sector’s performance surpassed plans by 6%, since a total of 3.8 million international visitors had been projected.
With respect to North America and Europe, the country’s principal emissary markets, the numbers of travelers arriving were 13% higher than 2015.
A press release from the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) noted that these results reflect a commitment to continue the “ascending path” of the industry and “raise the quality of services provided and the level of efficiency.”
The text recognizes efforts made by workers, the Cuban government and people, while noting that the tourism industry is one of the most strategic within the National Development Plan through 2030, which projects the arrival of 4.1 million visitors in 2017.
No doubt, the 2016-2017 high season already appears exceptional with the inauguration or reestablishment of numerous flights by some 20 international airlines, linking the island to more cities.
This last October, alone, European lines like Austrian Airlines and Azur Air debuted weekly flights from Vienna to Havana and Moscow to Varadero, respectively. While another Russian airline, Pegas, initiated charters to Varadero and Cayo Coco, scheduled every 10 days.
November saw Virgin Atlantic add a weekly London-Havana route, while Alitalia launched a similar flight on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This same month, Poland’s Itaca added a charter flight to Varadero, Camagüey and Holguín, every 10 days.
Eurowings began weekly flights to Matanzas and Havana in December, and the French airline Xl Airways, announced flights to Cayo Coco, Santa Clara and Varadero on Sundays.
Of special significance in the final months of 2016 was the initiation of regular commercial flights to Havana from the United States, via a number of airlines including American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Spirit, United Airlines, Alaska, Frontier, Southwest and Sun Country.
The major U.S. airline Southwest, for example, launched its inaugural flight from Tampa to Havana on December 12, with 156 passengers aboard a Boeing 737.
Likewise, the French company Air Caraibes added flights to Cuba, which should facilitate more visits from this country, which is one of the island’s principal emissary markets, according to Mintur authorities, who noted that more than 165,200 French travelers arrived during 2016.
A SPECIAL MENTION FOR “EUROPE’S BEST”
With the world’s newest fleet of airplanes, the Best Airline in Europe for the last six years (according to industry evaluator Skytrax), Turkish Airlines, on December 20 began three weekly flights to Havana and Caracas – Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday – on Boeing 777 planes which carry up to 349 passengers, making the Cuban and Venezuelan capitals the airlines’ 16th and 17th destinations in the Americas.
Turkish Airlines additionally offers flights to Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Bogota, Panama, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Miami, and Atlanta.
Mehmet Büyükeskşi, a member of the Turkish Airlines management team, commented, “Our flagship airline considers Havana and Caracas as essential to our expansion in Latin America,” positioning the airline among the vanguard of companies facilitating travel to Cuba for passengers who arrive for a variety of purposes.
The airlines’ flights will make travel to Cuba easier for visitors from a variety of cities in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Büyükeksi said he was pleased “to offer flights to people from Turkey and other parts of the world, so they can get to know this country and have the marvelous experience of visiting Cuba.”
The executive noted that with these new flights, “We will now be able to offer our prizewinning services which will make international trips easier and more convenient,” be they for business or pleasure.
Mintur authorities have recognized the potential of the Turkish market in terms of business travelers, package tours, cultural activities, and beach resort vacations. The numbers of visitors from the country have been steadily increasing, showing growth of 8.5% as of October, 2016.
Turismo1: Cuba expects to receive more than 4.1 million international visitors in 2017. Photo: http://www.cubatravel.cu