People, Travel

Cuba Struggling to Handle Massive Tourist Influx

Cuba Struggling to Handle Massive Tourist InfluxCuba Struggling to Handle Massive Tourist Influx

The number of American visitors to Cuba has nearly doubled this year as the island races to build hotels and expand Havana airport to keep up with booming demand.

Tourism has taken off since Cuba and the United States announced they would work to bury the Cold War hatchet in December 2014. The Caribbean island received a record 3.5 million visitors last year.

The influx has pushed capacity to the limit, prompting hotels to sharply hike prices and raising questions about how Cuba will absorb additional visitors when scheduled US commercial airline service starts later this year, Reuters reported.

“With the increase in demand there have occurred problems with the confirmation of reservations and some irritation with delays at the airports, most of all in Havana,” Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said on Wednesday.

Still, overall satisfaction with Cuba as a destination was high, reflected by the fact that nearly half of last year’s tourists were return visitors, he said.

The number of visitors so far in 2016 jumped 13.5% on the year to 1.5 million tourists, Marrero said. Of those, 94,000 were Americans, a 93% jump on the year, and more than 115,000 were Cuban-Americans.

Cuba’s tourism infrastructure is creaking mainly in the capital, where visits were up 37 percent this year, according to the minister. Almost all Americans visit Havana as part of their itineraries as they are banned from the beach.

Marrero said three new hotels were under construction around the colonial part of the city, bids were in to renovate some existing establishments, and more were on the drawing board.

He said an airport expansion was planned in Havana, but gave no more details.

“Until just a little while ago Cuba was a forbidden destination, and not only for Americans, but for many others from various countries who feared traveling to the island,” tourism professor Jose Luis Perello, of the University of Havana, said.

European tourism in Cuba was up 60% through April of this year, said Eric Peyre, who heads the French hospitality company Accor’s operations in the island.

“Last year, a room and breakfast at the Seville cost $120, this year $180, and beginning in November it will cost $280,” he said.