Cayman, Cuba pursue tourism pact

Cayman
is looking to Cuba to woo more visitors from Europe and Canada.

Premier
McKeeva Bush and Cuban Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz met recently in
Cuba to begin talks about forming a tourism partnership.

The
aim of the partnership is to promote a two-destination travel package so
tourists can visit Cuba and the Cayman Islands. Cuba has emerged as a regional
tourism heavyweight. The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Mexico and Jamaica are among
those countries that already have a multi-destination partnership with Cuba,
allowing them to tap into the two million tourists arriving in Cuba annually,
states a press release.

This
is not the first attempt that Premier Bush has made to establish a tourism
partnership with Cuba. The Premier recalled that, “between 2001 and 2004 I
started meetings with Cuba to get an agreement. After May 2005, nothing was
done and these Islands lost a tremendous opportunity to partner with Cuba for
multi-destination tourism. I am praying that this attempt at an agreement, even
at this late stage, will be successful.”

Premier
Bush said, “Cayman has the advantage of its proximity to Cuba and this is an
excellent opportunity to diversify our tourism market and lessen our dependence
on our current market. A tourism partnership with Cuba gives us the ability to
significantly increase our share of the European market which might otherwise
be difficult for Cayman to achieve.”

Of
the 2.5 million tourists that arrived in Cuba during 2009, 60 per cent
originated from Europe and 30 per cent from Canada.  European tourists are known for taking longer
vacations than American tourists, making them ideal multi-destination prospects.

Sol
Melia, being the major hotel brand that it is, will attract upscale tourists to
both destinations with its excellent reputation and worldwide marketing and
reservations system. Sole Melia operates 313 hotels in 27 countries on four continents.
Its hotels are rated 3, 4 and 5 stars. It is the largest resort hotel chain in
the world and a leading brand in the Caribbean and Latin America. The company
is well established in Cuba. The delegation met with Francisco Camps, president
of Sol Melia Cuba Operation, Gabriel Garcia, director Commercial Sol Melia Cuba
and Martin Aragones, Sol Melia Cuba and Canada. The Sol Melia executives
expressed an interest in pursuing development opportunities in the Cayman
Islands with an eye on Cayman Brac.

It’s
envisioned that Cayman Airways will be the carrier between Cuba and Cayman.
Cayman’s National Carrier serves the Grand Cayman-Havana route three days per
week. Not only does the multi-destination partnership offer increased traffic
for Cayman Airways, it also means that European tourists can arrive in Cayman
in greater numbers without extending the runway at Owen Roberts International
Airport to accommodate long-haul aircraft. Cuba asked Cayman to evaluate the
possibility of expanding Cayman Airways services to other Cuban destinations,
in particular Santiago de Cuba.

The
discussions also looked at the potential for cruise tourism for Cayman. Cuba is
in negotiations with European cruise operators to position vessels in Havana.
Grand Cayman would be on the cruise itinerary out of Havana. The Premier
discussed the opportunities that Cayman’s cruise related businesses should be
given if cruise ships from Cuba call at Grand Cayman.

With
a view to moving forward, plans call for establishing a joint Cayman Airways –
Department of Tourism office in Havana. The office will market to air and
cruise visitors and provide airline customer service. The presence of such an
office enhances the Cayman Islands’ brand recognition amongst the Canadian and
European markets that it aims to develop for multi-destination and cruise tourism.

Accompanying
the Premier for the talks were Tourism Chief Officer Carson Ebanks, Deputy
Chief Officer Dalton Watler, Cayman Airways Airports Manager Ivan Forbes, Manny
Gonzales of the Department of Tourism, businessman and CITA representative
Harry Lalli and Pirates Week Deputy Director Bernie Bush. A second meeting is
planned for the near future.

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