Lonely Planet Writer

Why Cuba looks set to welcome a record-breaking number of visitors in 2019

Cuba’s Tourism Board confirmed that the island welcomed 4.74 million visitors in 2018, with 850,000 travelling on cruises only. For 2019, the hopes are set on 5.1 million which would represent more than a 7% growth to the previous year. But what’s new about Cuba and why there might an unprecedented tourism boom around the corner?

Classic American car beside Plaza Major. Image by ©Mark Read/Lonely Planet

Miguel Gibson, managing director of the UK-based tour operator CubaDirect, told Lonely Planet News that 2019 is expected to be a promising year mainly due to the increase of choices for accommodation and competitive hotel pricing. Cuba “is relatively cheap again, after prices skyrocketed during the Obama era”, he said referencing the thaw in diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the US in 2014.

Cycle taxi on waterfront. Image by ©Mark Read/Lonely Planet

Gibson, who’s been promoting the Caribbean island for over 15 years, explained that it offers a contrasting, unique charm. “Cuba is both Caribbean and Latin-American, is African and European, is capitalist and socialist; it offers the perfect balance between beach and culture; it is safe; it is both frustrating and enriching … there is no place like it!”, he said.

Couple salsa dancing in colonial building. Image by ©Mark Read/Lonely Planet

Cuba’s low rates of violence also attracts foreign families and solo travelers. For Plácido Sánchez, operations manager at Mega Yacht Services Inc., Cubans’ hospitality and contagious joie de vivre makes up for economic scarcities in the tourism sector. “This year Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary and it’s a great opportunity to boost interest in the island nation”, he added.

Ahead of Havana’s 500th anniversary next November, tourism authorities have focused their efforts on developing luxury facilities such as the recently-opened hotel Iberostar Grand Packard and the very-well-located Prado y Malecón, expected to open in late 2019. Only in Havana, another ten hotels are scheduled to be inaugurated in upcoming months (1121 new rooms), complemented by the burgeoning movement of casas particulares (private homestays).

Cuba looks set to welcome more visitors than ever. Image by ©Renata Apanaviciene/Lonely Planet

Among the most commented additions to Havana’s skyline is a 42-storey property under construction in Vedado, close to the famous ice cream parlour, Coppelia. This one’s set to become Havana’s tallest hotel, superseding the nearby Habana Libre. For boutique hotel lovers, the 24-room Catedral is expected to be an impeccably restored colonial mansion, just a few meters away from the Havana Cathedral. Altogether, there are 36 hotels under construction throughout Cuba (around 18,000 new rooms).

Though the top two markets are still Canada and the US (mostly family visits of Cuban-Americans), tourism authorities have recently launched promotional campaigns to attract more travelers from the UKFranceGermany and Spain, as well as from emergent markets such as ChinaVietnamSouth Africa and India.