HAVANA, Cuba – Travel Agent is currently in Cuba for the 15th annual MITM Americas Meetings / Incentives Travel Market. Now, we don't usually cover meetings and incentives, but this was a golden opportunity to visit the only region U.S. travelers are prohibited to visit.
The event kicked off last night with an opening reception at the Melia Cohiba, where Travel Agent is staying. Shortly after the trade floor opened up this morning, we spoke with Ramon Alvarez, president of GSAR Marketing— the organizers for the show. Alvarez told us that there are between 70 to 80 buyers and 70 to 80 exhibitors. Of the buyers, 12 of them are from the U.S. Although this is still a relatively low number, it is double the amount of U.S. buyers who attended the last MITM Americas show Cuba hosted five years ago.
Alvarez, a native of Spain, says the U.S. interest in Cuba is obviously higher than it was five years ago since the Obama administration has already taken steps to loosen travel restrictions from the U.S. But he also noted that Cuba needs to learn more about the U.S. market before the restrictions are lifted.
There are currently about 45,000 hotel rooms in Cuba, most of which are located in Northern Havana, but the country definitely needs more, Alvarez says. "I think (the Cuban travel industry) is a little scared about the restrictions being lifted because they may not be quite ready," he told us. "They are saying there is going to be 3 million U.S. visitors the first year when everything opens up, but I think it's actually going to be way more. They really need more hotels for when that happens."
The country does already have, however, many hotel brands that U.S. travelers are familiar with including Sandals Resorts and SuperClubs Resorts. In fact, many Spanish hotels that are popular throughout the Caribbean are present at this show, including Sol Melia and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts. Today is the last day of the show, but Travel Agent will be taking part in a post-show press trip. We will continue to pass along news and notes as soon as we can.