Will McDonalds Come To Cuba?

with Martha Chapman

Eloy Govea, Director of Cuba Tourism Office Toronto; Javier Domokos Ruiz, Consul General of Cuba in Toronto; Maria del Carmen, Ministry of Tourism;
Manuel Marrero, Minister of Tourism; Carmen Casal, Consul General in Montreal; Ambassador
Julio Garmendia

Barcelo’s Rick McCauley with
Stephen Hunter, President of Sunwing 

Sobeida Feliz, Global Account Manager, Warwick International Hotels; Manuel Marrero; Eloy Govea & Sylvie Legaré, Senior Director Product, Transat Tours Canada.

There was an amazing view from Toula Restaurant on the 38th floor of the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto. But not as gob-smacking as some of the statistics provided by our host, Cuba’s Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero, addressing movers and shakers in the ITC business including tour operators and hotel reps.

Through an interpreter, Marrero explained that up to October 31 st this year the island had welcomed 2,850,000 visitors – up 18% year over year (Europe is up 25% and Canada is up over 13%, delivering to date over a million visitors in 2015 alone).

And there are changes to come, for sure. The country recently switched to USD pricing for hotels, which Marrero described as necessary to update Cuba’s economic model as over $100 million has been lost through exchange rates, and “we must be like all the others”.

He added: “Everyone knows we are living a new scenario, after Barack Obama announced a new relationship with Cuba.” And nowhere more true than in the hotel sector, which is adding 2,000 more rooms per year for now, a whopping 4,000 rooms annually starting in 2018. He also remarked that there is, frankly, too much 2 and 3 star product in Havana and many of these properties  will be upgraded, plus significant investment will be made in heritage cities such as Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Camaguey. The minister was also careful to point out that much of the American demand will be for casa particulars (private homes or B&Bs) of which there are 12,500 in the country already.

“There is no reason for the American market to set aside the Canadians: we have a solid relationship with tour operators and airlines in Canada and cannot afford to lose 1,250,000 Canadians. Our revolution proved that Cuba never forgets those who extended their hands in our toughest times.  We are very thankful people and will be dedicating FIT, our annual tourism fair, to Canada in 2016.”

All stirring stuff, but I was still curious. In a private word with the Minister, I asked the question a lot of people have been asking me:  so with the end of the boycott, will McDonalds come to Cuba?

“We have no interest in fast food franchises – in Cuba we have thousands of excellent restaurants. We are looking for investment, yes, but in hotels, waterparks, golf courses. Not restaurants.”

(will not be published)