IT’S NOT US, IT’S YOU!: Agents feel the love from Cuba at Toronto gala

The Cuba Tourist Board thanked its agent partners for helping make Canada the country’s No. 1 market at a gala event late last week at Toronto’s Palais Royale – a glittering venue that Canadian tourist board director Lessner Gomez likened to Havana’s famed Tropicana cabaret, even if the weather outside wasn’t quite the same as on the Caribbean island.

“It’s all about you,” declared Nieves Ricardo CTB’s Canadian office to the audience of approximately 250 agents, who were treated to dinner, entertainment – including dancers and lively salsa band (just like the Tropicana) – and mini trade show featuring a dozen suppliers, including major Canadian tour operators and island hotels. “We are very grateful for your partnership and all you do to support us,” she added.

And that includes helping put Cuba on pace to reach the magic million mark in Canadian visitors in 2023, with Gomez reporting that the nearly 750,000 of us had visited through the end of October – comprising 38% of total arrivals in the island (1,973,083) this year – and a 200% increase over last year.

“Canada is the No. 1,” he enthused, adding, “Canadians are drawn by Cuba’s layback charm, the friendliness of its people and its pristine beaches,” and adding that typical Canadian visitor to Cuba generally lacks pretense, is culturally immersive, and often has a higher income than generally given credit for.

Canada’s impressive arrivals numbers are being helped, Gomez said, by increased airline capacity (12%) from this country, comprising over 5,000 flights from 21 Canadian getaways to the most popular destinations in Cuba, including Manzanillo and Cienfuegos with new flights from Sunwing.

Karen Puebla, Nieves Ricardo, and Lessner Gomez of CTB Canada

He added that Cuba’s tourist infrastructure continues to advance with an expansive network of modern hotels, among them several new and renovated properties:

• Cayo Paredon: Gran Aston Cayo Paredon Hotel and Vila Gale, the latter managed by a Portuguese hotel chain new to Cuba.

• Cayo Cruz: Marina Plaza and Spa Hotel, not an all-inclusive hotel, but ideal for long stays.

• Cayo Santa Maria: The One Gallery hotel, focused on Cuban art and culture, along with an robust entertainment program and facilities. The hotel is located next to the main stage in Cayo Santa Maria where nightlife activities and several major festivals take place.

• Varadero: New to Varadero, the Gran Aston Varadero Hotel

• Holguin: Sol Turquesa Beach hotel saw major renovations and is under new management by Melia Hotels

• Havana: Affilated to Melia hotels, the Sevilla Hotel has been completely upgraded; Blue Diamond Resorts has added a new property to its portfolio in the Jibacoa area: the Starfish Jibacoa (the former Villa Tropico located next to Memories Jibacoa) has also seen a complete makeover.

• Trinidad: The most recent opening is the Melia Peninsula Trinidad hotel, an all-inclusive hotel located at Ancon Beach, 20 minutes from the city of Trinidad, a world heritage site and one of the most charming colonial towns in Cuba.

Gomez noted that while WiFi is available and free at all hotels in Cuba, the government’s current goal is to improve the quality of the connectivity by setting up a fiber optic service (which in certain areas is already installed) – a project expected to be completed by the end of 2024.


He adds that all airports in Cuba have internet access, and the next step is to have WiFi service on catamaran tours and tourist buses so that tourists can share their experiences while on vacation.

The director acknowledged ongoing supply chain challenges in Cuba that sometimes result in shortages of certain products (such as ketchup in hotels), but he noted that the situation is improving thanks to increased cargo from Canada and boosting import deals directly with hotel chains.

When on-island, visitors to Cuba will find many events and festivals all year round, such as the Havana Jazz Festival, Santiago de Cuba Fire Festival, and the Havana Cigar Festival.

And no less important is the Cuba International Tourism trade fair (FITCUBA), said Gomez, which typically takes place in May and will be held next year in Cayo Coco.

And while members of the Canadian trade are invited to FITCUBA, the tourist board will also continue to support travel agents with more FAM trips to the island, says Gomez, who believes that seeing and exploring Cuba as the best way to promote learning amongst travel advisors that will help sell the destination; similarly, through the creation of the tourist board’s travel specialist program.

Cuba’s new ‘CUBA UNICA’ advertising campaign is being conducted across Canada and the message is clear, noted Gomez, concluding: “Cuba’s unique people, history and culture makes Cuba unique – and ‘unique’ is better than ‘best’.”

First published at Travel Industry Today


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