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26 Sep, 2016

Cuba launches “targeted tours” to lure more Chinese visitors

By Yang Feiyue

Beijing, (China Daily) 2016-09-26 – Travel authorities in Cuba have designed a series of tours that take in historical and cultural sites and natural scenery to attract more Chinese visitors to the island.

More than 28,000 Chinese traveled to the country last year, making up only a small proportion of the total 3 million foreign visitors, according to local tourism data.

Tania Velazquez Lopez, the former consul-general to China, has said her nation is designing more tour packages that will appeal to Chinese tourists, and aims to offer at least 85,000 hotel rooms by 2020.

Chinese companies are shifting their focus to Cuba to cash in on the island’s potential tourism boom.

Beijing Enterprises Group Co signed a deal in May 2015 to build a golf resort, while 13 other leisure tourism projects worth a combined $460 million are underway.

Its rich collection of historical buildings, beaches and golf courses have already endeared the island nation to Chinese visitors.

“We’ve seen a steady number of Chinese tourists to Cuba in recent years,” said Li Mengran of Beijing Utour International Travel Service Co. “We expect the number to double or triple in the next few years.”

However, he said the island remains a relatively unknown destination among the Chinese, with visitors now mostly veteran travelers who have been to the United States and Europe and know something about Cuba’s history.

Last year, roughly 100 Chinese booked trips through Utour. “They mostly go to sightsee,” Li said. “Plus, local specialties such as cigars and rum are popular.”

Utour offers an 11-day luxury tour during the annual Spring Festival holiday that costs 21,800 yuan ($3,260) per person.

Air China launched flights between Beijing and Havana-via Montreal in Canada-in December.

Tan Hao, who spent eight days traveling in Cuba in June last year, said he would consider a second trip now getting there is easier.

“I’ve always been curious about the country, so I decided to see it on my own,” said the 34-year-old from Beijing, who visited Havana and Varadero.

“I’ve been to many beaches, including those in Bali, the Aegean Sea and Thailand, but the one in Varadero is something else,” he said, remarking on its clear-blue sea and white sand.

He said he was also impressed by the European-style buildings in Havana’s old town, which feature arcades, wrought-iron gates and courtyards.

“There are many great churches, castles and watchtowers in good condition, as well as Ernest Hemingway’s former residence,” he added.