Cuba rolls out welcome mat to woo more Chinese visitors
THE travel authorities in Cuba have designed a series of tours that take in historical and cultural sites and natural scenery to attract more Chinese visitors to the island.
More than 28,000 tourists from China travelled to the country last year, making up only a small proportion of the total three million foreign visitors, according to local tourism data.
Tania Velazquez Lopez, the former consul-general to China, has said her nation is designing more tour packages that will appeal to Chinese tourists, and aims to offer at least 85,000 hotel rooms by 2020.
Chinese companies are shifting their focus to Cuba to cash in on the island's potential tourism boom.
Beijing Enterprises Group signed a deal in May last year to build a golf resort while 13 other leisure tourism projects worth a combined US$460 million (S$629 million) are under way.
Its rich collection of historic buildings, beaches and golf courses have endeared the island to Chinese visitors.
"We've seen a steady number of Chinese tourists to Cuba in recent years," said Li Mengran of Beijing Utour International Travel Service.
"We expect the number to double or triple in the next few years."
However, he said the island remains a relatively unknown destination among the Chinese.
Last year, about 100 people booked trips via Utour. "They mostly go to sightsee," Mr Li said.
"Plus, local specialities such as cigars and rum are popular."
Utour offers an 11-day luxury tour during the annual Chinese New Year holiday that costs 21,800 yuan (S$4,470) per person.
Air China also started flights between Beijing and Havana - via Montreal in Canada - in December.
Tan Hao, who spent eight days in Cuba in June last year, will consider a second trip now that getting there is easier.
Said the 34-year-old from Beijing, who visited Havana and Varadero: "I've been to many beaches, including those in Bali, the Aegean Sea and Thailand, but the one in Varadero is something else."
ASIA NEWS NETWORK