CANCUN, Mexico – The three-day meeting of U.S. businessmen and Cuban tourism officials ended in the Mexican city of Cancun with hopes that the restriction on travel to the Caribbean island imposed by Washington will be eliminated.
Businessman Kirby Jones, president of the Bethesda, Maryland consulting firm Alamar Associates and promoter of the event, said he hopes that the next meeting will be held in Cuba, a reference to possible U.S. political changes toward the island, but he gave no date when that might occur.
Cuba is a magnet for tourism and a great place for United States companies to do business – everything is up and running and all that is lacking now is for conditions in the U.S. Congress to be favorable for eliminating travel restrictions, Jones said.
“In Congress now there is a bill to do away with the restrictions. And we’ve been working for almost a year to support that new law. Some of the attendees (at Cancun) visited the offices of the lawmakers to motivate them to vote in favor of lifting the restrictions,” Jones said.
He said the most valuable part of the meeting, the first since the U.S.-Cuba Travel Summits he organizes were suspended due to the tightening of restrictions against Cuba, was that U.S. businessmen could hear from the Cubans themselves about tourism developments in recent years.
“In the United States nobody talks about Cuba. Businessmen don’t know what is happening on the island and much less about the progress being made in the area of tourism,” he said.
“This meeting reflects the opinion of the U.S. people who want to visit Cuba without limitations,” Jones said.
The 65 businessmen from the tourism sector who attended the Cancun meeting, which ended Friday, received information packs providing them with comprehensive updates on the island’s tourism industry.
Besides photos, videos, magazines and other promotional material, the Cuban government included the latest tourism indicators.
In one report, Cuba’s Tourism Ministry said that last year Cuba enjoyed a 3.5 percent increase in the number of visitors.
It said that during the same period and according to the World Tourism Organization, other Caribbean islands showed a 2.5-percent drop in foreign tourists.
In 1990 Cuba had only 13,000 guestrooms for tourists, most of them concentrated in Havana and the seaside resort of Varadero. Last year the Caribbean island had no less than 50,000 hotel rooms.
As for the kind of hotels they are, the report said that while there were 17 guest centers in operation at the beginning of the 1990s with 4 and 5 star ratings, there are currently 107 in that category.
“One out of every seven hotel rooms in the Caribbean are in Cuba,” the report said.
Touristic activity in Cuba is concentrated in eight regions, where the Cuban government dedicates 90 percent of its investment, chiefly on roads, communications, and water and electricity systems.
An average of 60 foreign airlines use the 10 international airports in Cuba’s tourist regions.
With a panorama like that, Jones said, Cuba is prepared to receive tourists from th
e United States and businessmen are set to establish commercial ties.
“All we need is for the United States government to allow it,” he said.
The United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba not long after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, who formally retired two years ago in favor of younger brother Raul.
Washington imposed a comprehensive economic and trade embargo on the communist-ruled island in 1962.
An analysis by the organizing committee for the meeting indicates that the potential market of U.S. citizens who could visit the island immediately if travel restrictions are lifted is about 1 million.