- Posted by Daniel Meesak
- On 10th September 2015
- china, chinese, cotri, cuba, destination, tourism
Pristine beaches, luxury resorts and golf courses may attract Chinese visitors into their socialist ally. But also, local leaders emerge in their imaginary: “For the Chinese, Cuba is a country of heroes, like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara,” affirms Elena Wang, director of China Sea International Travel Service, a travel agency that operates tours to Cuba. “For the Chinese, going to Cuba isn’t just traditional tourism, they are going to learn about the history of Cuba and its revolution.”
The trade between Cuba and its second largest trading partner, China, has grown rapidly in recent years, reaching 262 billion USD in 2013. President Xi Jinping visited Cuba in September 2014 to further strengthen economic ties between the two countries, with a special focus on foreign investment from China. Xi Jinping’s entourage during the visit to Cuba included a delegation of 50 Chinese entrepreneurs who travelled to Havana to explore investment and business opportunities. Recent investments range from joint ventures for the development of real estate complexes and hotels as well as construction projects, such as the harbour of Santiago de Cuba.
Chinese Tourism Development in Cuba
Cuba gained Approved Destination Status (ADS) from the Chinese government in 2003, paving the way to the development of tourism from the Asian giant. The first Cuba-China forum was held in Havana in 2013 drafted plans for a squad of Mandarin-speaking tour guides as well as the improvement of flight connections. Since 2013, UnionPay cards are authorized to withdraw cash in the island’s banks and cash machines.
How many Chinese visit Cuba?
The overall numbers are still dormant, waiting for the cue that triggers the wave. In 2014, the arrival numbers grew by about 18%, representing 28,200 arrivals compared to 22,000 in 2013. For Q1 2015, the growth accelerated to 27% even though the planned direct air link by Air China, which is supposed to connect Beijing and Havana three times a week via Montreal, has not materialised yet. Currently, Chinese travelling to Cuba have to fly west and transit in Spain, Germany, or France.
How the Chinese get there
Visa on arrival for a 30 day stay in Cuba are available at the airport for 25 USD. Visa waiver and visa-free policies introduced in the neighbouring countries allow Chinese tourists to combine a visit to Cuba with some other Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, being Mexico the most popular option. Most of these combined tours last at least eleven days and cost around 50,000 RMB (8,100 USD). Poor marketing efforts targeting the Chinese market are still a dam that holds back the wave.
A short trip to Cuba in a package tour for Chinese tourists is rare: ‘You ask me why I’m going to Cuba. I am firmly telling you that the answer is actually very simple: because it is not easy to reach’ say a couple from Shanghai on weibo.com.
What they do in Cuba
Activities among Chinese tourists when visiting Cuba range from sightseeing, beach holidays, luxury shopping, visiting crafts workshops and purchases of local produce such as rum, cigars and coffee. More mature visitors have shown interest in ‘Red tourism’ that evokes old communist and nostalgic memories. A growing number of Chinese visitors choose Cuba for healthcare tours, where medical treatment services for serious illnesses deliver outstanding value for money.
Image of Cuba among Chinese social media users
‘The first image will be Castro and socialism. Cuba is mysterious, because, very few Chinese travellers had been there’ says a Chinese student in Cuba on qyer.com. Among young Chinese travellers, Cuba is predominantly famous for socialism and Fidel Castro and associated with exoticism and mysteriousness. Due to its comparatively less known status and inaccessibility it is regarded, especially for independent tourists, as a challenge to travel to.
Concerns are raised among Chinese potential travellers in regard to safety and security matters of the island. Its comparatively economical underdevelopment and poverty, poor infrastructure and hotel standards and hygiene are put into question when considering Cuba as a destination.
Read more about Cuba in the special section of COTRI Market Report August 2015
Photo: Iker Merodio, flickr