Last updated: 01:30 PM ET, Mon April 04 2016

Cuba Posts Record Visitor Arrivals Following Spotlight Run

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | April 04, 2016

Cuba Posts Record Visitor Arrivals Following Spotlight Run

Photo by David Cogswell

Cuba’s month-long run at the top of headlines following President Obama’s March visit clearly hasn’t hurt the country’s already strong visitor arrivals. The Caribbean nation ended March with a 14 percent visitor arrivals increase said Alexis Trujillo, Cuba’s deputy tourism minister.

In a Cuban News Agency report, Trujillo said Cuba recorded a year-over-year increase of 175,200 international arrivals in March. Cuba is seeking to surpass last year’s historic high-water mark of 3.52 million visitor arrivals, a 17.4 percent increase over 2014, according to Caribbean Tourism Organization data.  

While the country has long been closed to mainstream travel from the U.S., Cuba remains one of the region’s most popular destinations. Only the Dominican Republic, with 5.60 million visitors in 2015, exceeded Cuba’s arrivals among Caribbean destinations.

READ MORE: How Obama's Cuba Visit Allowed A&K to Get Creative

Trujillo said the Cuban government has launched “actions aimed at a competitive tourism product starting from constructing new hotels in the country in addition to improving services.”  The country’s economic plan includes “investment mainly aimed at increasing room capacity” including new hotels in Havana, Varadero and in the island’s northern keys, he said.

In March the U.S. Treasury Department approved applications by Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Marriott International to operate hotels in Cuba. Starwood officials said the company would begin Cuba operations by the end of the year.

READ MORE: Traveling to Cuba: Top Tips and Advice From Travel Agents and Tour Operators

The company received approval to re-brand Havana’s 83-room Hotel Inglaterra as part of its Starwood's Luxury Collection and reflag the city’s 186-room Hotel Quinta Avenida under Starwood’s Four Points by Sheraton brand.  

Both properties will undergo renovations. The projects will mark the first U.S. hospitality operations in the country in almost 60 years. Starwood has also signed a letter of intent with Habaguane, owner of the 27-room Hotel Santa Isabel; the plan is to re-brand the property as part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection. The agreement awaits U.S. Treasury Department approval.

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