turistas, turismo, Cuba

Russian and Canadian tourism, last hopes to get out of the crisis

Havana Cuba. – The Cuban government has pinned its last hopes of recovering its tourism industry on the massive arrival of Russians and Canadians starting next October and November, in accordance with the intense campaigns deployed in recent days in both Russia and Canada.

In Russia, the campaign called “Cuba: Única” was presented by the Cuban Minister of Tourism between the 13th and 15th of this month at the Cuban stand during the “RECATION” Tourist Exhibition in Moscow.

But the strategy of marketing not only has it contemplated the presence in the Russian capital of the main tourism officials of the island, who have toured the country promoting trips to Cuba, but since 2016-2017 it had forced the installation of a true “operations center ” of the Ministry of Tourism that functions as a “Russian clone” of the official Cuban institution.

Page of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism in Russia where the Unique campaign is promoted (Screenshot/FB)

A curious fact: Juan Escalona, ​​son of the infamous prosecutor who, during the so-called Case No. 1 of 1989, led General Arnaldo Ochoa and other Cuban soldiers accused of high treason before the platoon of soldiers, was appointed head of this “parallel ministry.” shooting.

A trial held at full speed —in the midst of denunciations by the United States of the undoubted link between the Cuban Government and the drug cartels in Colombia and Panama—, where they came to light, in addition to the dark labyrinth on which rises the real economy of the regime, the close relationships between tourism development on the island, the construction of hotels and the money obtained from drug trafficking operations carried out by the MC Department of the Ministry of the Interior and the high command of the Armed Forces Revolutionaries.

Russian and Canadian tourism, last hopes to get out of the crisis
Juan Escalona in Moscow promoting Cuba as a destination (Photo: Facebook)

Years have passed and, perhaps due to the ironies of life or because the tourism of these times could have already overcome the original sin of having been financed by drugs, today the descendants of the intransigent prosecutor have changed the courts for the leisure industry and We can find them already far away in Russia, as has happened with Juan Escalona Jr., or somewhat closer as private landlords of houses in Havana, as legal advisors since 2019 in the properties of Blue Diamond and Gaviota SA in Cayo Largo, or as tour operators for Meliá International, such as the cases of Ana Laura Escalona, ​​de “Mañi” Escalona and Amaury Escalona Agüero, the latter son of Nisia Agüero, former official of the Ministry of Culture and for many years director of the National Theater of Cuba.

Russian and Canadian tourism, last hopes to get out of the crisis
Post by Ana Laura Escalona in which she promotes her rent in Havana (screenshot/FB)

But the best positioned of the entire Escalona family in Cuban tourism is undoubtedly “Juanito”, who, a trusted man based in Moscow with his wife for years, has the responsibility of guaranteeing the Cuban regime that this 1st. In October, flights from Russia arrive in Varadero and Cayo Coco full of tourists.

Russian and Canadian tourism, last hopes to get out of the crisis
Juan Escalona in Moscow promoting the Unique campaign (Photo: Facebook)

Blue Diamond and Canadian Hope

On the other hand, in Canada, for the promotion campaign, the regime has relied entirely on the efforts of the Sunwing group, to which the Blue Diamond hotel chain belongs, about to become the main company on the Island, while has surpassed the Spanish Iberostar in number of rooms, and possibly soon will displace Meliá International from first place, both in terms of number of facilities and quality of services, in accordance with the liberties granted by Gaviota SA in the administration of its properties, especially Cayo Largo del Sur, where it currently has four hotels and seven villas, for a total of 1,348 rooms, to which it will add another 250 when the Royalton Cayo Largo is completed, scheduled to open in 2025.

Russian and Canadian tourism, last hopes to get out of the crisis
Lessner Gómez (left) was appointed in 2019 as head of the MINTUR office in Canada (Photo: Facebook)

“The relationship with Lessner has been fundamental in the decisions of Sunwing (Blue Diamond), which is why he was appointed in Toronto,” says one of the sources. “Without Lessner’s management, plus all the guarantees that they have had to give Sunwing, the free importation of food for its facilities, plus the good slice that it takes of almost 70 percent, Blue Diamond would not have expanded like this ”, he adds.

Having presented the “Cuba: Única” campaign on June 21 of this year, Canada seems to have great expectations about the flow of tourists to Cuba. According to information disclosed by Sunwing, in statements by Eric Rodríguez himself, a strong winter is expected and there is real pent-up demand, with advance bookings well above pre-2018-2019 levels. Let us wait to see how well founded such expectations are.

The growth of Blue Diamond in Cuba in recent years, and more so in these months of 2022, has been enormous. Currently, throughout the Island, not counting those of Cayo Largo, it manages more than a dozen hotels, among which are: Memories Miramar Habana, Memories Jibacoa, Memories Varadero, Grand Memories Varadero and Sanctuary, Royalton Varadero, Mistyque Casa Perla by Royalton, Starfish Cuatro Palmas and Las Palmas, Starfish Varadero, Memories Flamenco, Memories Paraíso, Grand Memories Cayo Santamaría and Sanctuary, Memories Caribe.

Russian and Canadian tourism, last hopes to get out of the crisis
In the Facebook profile of Juan Escalona it appears that he works in the Cuban Ministry of Tourism in Russia (Screenshot)

in Key Largo, has recently acquired all the facilitieswhich will be renamed Memories Cayo Largo, Grand Memories Cayo Largo and Sanctuary, Memories Villas Cayo Largo, Starfish Cayo Largo, plus the future Royalton Cayo Largo hotel.

Also of great importance have been the acquisitions of the Paseo del Prado hotels, renamed the Royalton Habana, and the Mistyque Regis, recently opened, on the famous Havana avenue.

In Cayo Santa María, the Blue Diamond Memories and Sanctuary complex has 1,386 rooms, slightly more than it will now have in Cayo Largo. The Starfish Cayo Santa María alone is a gigantic complex with 1,300 rooms, which brings the number of rooms managed by the Canadian company to more than 3,000.

The flight schedule from Canada will have direct itineraries every Friday from November 4 to April 7, 2023, for the Montreal-Key Largo routes. The routes from Toronto, Ottawa and Quebec will be every Saturday, between December 17 and April 7.

According to the information offered to us by sources linked to the Ministry of Tourism, just over half of the 381 Cuban hotels in operation are currently closed due to the drop in tourism, while the rest have remained with an extremely low occupancy rate. which averaged just 14 per cent during the first half of 2022, with luxury venues such as the newly opened Grand Aston and the Packard Hotel barely breaking 5 per cent.

Extremely low figures but could have been worse if national tourism had not been taken into account since, during the months of July and August, they practically represented one hundred percent of hotel occupancies in the resorts of Varadero and Jardines del Rey. Let’s see if by October and November, with the Russians and Canadians, this trend towards the catastrophe of tourism in Cuba is finally reversed.

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