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Cayman Tourism Officials & Sol Melia Hotels Begin Talks
with Cuba to Form Tourism Partnership

Cayman Net News, Grand Cayman, Cayman IslandsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 18, 2010--A delegation to Cuba headed by Premier McKeeva Bush who is also the Minister of Tourism, held exploratory talks on a tourism partnership with Cuba and the Spanish hotel chain Sol Melia last week. Premier Bush met with Cuban Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero Cruz and executives of Sol Melia.

The talks are a first step in attracting more European and Canadian visitors to Cayman and a new hotel brand for the Islands. The talks also included potential cruise tourism originating from Cuba. The aim of the partnership is to promote a two-destination travel package whereby tourists can visit Cuba and the Cayman Islands.

The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Mexico and Jamaica are among those countries that already have a multi-destination partnership with Cuba, allowing them to tap into the two million tourists arriving in Cuba annually.

This is not the first attempt that Premier Bush has made to establish a tourism partnership with Cuba.

The Premier recalled that, "between 2001 and 2004 I started meetings with Cuba to get an agreement. After May 2005, nothing was done and these Islands lost a tremendous opportunity to partner with Cuba for multi-destination tourism."

Premier Bush said, "Cayman has the advantage of its proximity to Cuba and this is an excellent opportunity to diversify our tourism market and lessen our dependence on our current market. A tourism partnership with Cuba gives us the ability to significantly increase our share of the European market which might otherwise be difficult for Cayman to achieve."

Of the 2.5 million tourists that arrived in Cuba during 2009, 60 percent originated from Europe and 30 percent from Canada. European tourists are known for taking longer vacations than American tourists, making them ideal multi-destination prospects.

Sol Melia operates 313 hotels in 27 countries on four continents. Its hotels are rated 3, 4 and 5 stars. It is the largest resort hotel chain in the world and a leading brand in the Caribbean and Latin America. The company is well established in Cuba.

The delegation met with Francisco Camps, President of Sol Melia Cuba Operation, Gabriel Garcia, Director Commercial Sol Melia Cuba and Martin Aragones, Sol Melia Cuba and Canada. The Sol Melia executives expressed an interest in pursuing development opportunities in the Cayman Islands with an eye on Cayman Brac.

It is envisioned that Cayman Airways will be the carrier between Cuba and Cayman. Cayman's national carrier currently serves the Grand Cayman-Havana route three days per week.

Not only does the multi-destination partnership offer increased traffic for Cayman Airways, it also means that European tourists can arrive in Cayman in greater numbers without extending the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport to accommodate long-haul aircraft.

Cuba asked Cayman to evaluate the possibility of expanding Cayman Airways services to other Cuban destinations, in particular Santiago de Cuba. The discussions also looked at the potential for cruise tourism for Cayman. Cuba is in negotiations with European cruise operators to position vessels in Havana. Grand Cayman would be on the cruise itinerary out of Havana.

The Premier discussed the opportunities that Cayman's cruise-related businesses should be given if cruise ships from Cuba call at Grand Cayman.

With a view to moving forward, plans call for establishing a joint Cayman Airways -- Department of Tourism office in Havana. The office will market to air and cruise visitors and provide airline customer service. The presence of such an office enhances the Cayman Islands' brand recognition amongst the Canadian and European markets that it aims to develop for multi-destination and cruise tourism.

Accompanying the Premier for the talks were Tourism Chief Officer Carson Ebanks, Deputy Chief Officer Dalton Watler, Cayman Airways Airports Manager Ivan Forbes, Manny Gonzales of the Department of Tourism, businessman and CITA representative Harry Lalli and Pirates Week Deputy Director Bernie Bush.

A second meeting is planned for the near future.


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