HAVANA, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Despite a sharp 6.5 percent contraction in the arrival of foreign tourists in the first half of this year, Cuba is expected to set a new record and finish 2018 with the arrival of about 4.8 million visitors, the island's Tourism Minister, Manuel Marrero, said on Wednesday.
Marrero said the sector has begun a gradual process of recovery, especially in the current month, which will help surpass the figure of 4,689,894 travelers that came to Cuba last year.
"We expect around 4.8 million visitors by the end of this year. The aspiration was to reach 5 million but that goal is being set for 2019," he said after the opening of the 22nd Meetings and Incentives Travel Market (MITM) Americas fair in Havana.
He said the final months of 2018 will greatly impact this result, as in the first half of September only, 160,000 visitors came to the island, 65 percent more than that in the same period of 2017.
"It means that the remaining four months will be good and they will allow us to recover this decrease and actually grow. That is why I'm glad to inform that we are going to break once again the record of international tourism arrivals this year," Marrero told Xinhua.
Marrero said that Cuba currently has 69,286 rooms, 69 percent of them in four- and five-star hotels, adding that as part of the investment process that takes place in the country, around 5,350 new accommodations will be built in 2018.
"We have continued to diversify and expand foreign participation in the development of Cuban tourism. There are already 21 foreign companies of recognized international prestige that manage hotels in Cuba with 45,333 rooms grouped in 45 administration and marketing contracts," he said.
He also indicated there are 27 joint ventures in the tourism sector that operate about 5,000 rooms under this modality and the development program up to 2030 planned by the Caribbean government, includes 610 new projects for a total of 103,000 hotel rooms.
The MITM Americas fair, which takes place for the third time in Havana until Friday, is associated with an exhibition fair to enhance tourism associated with professional events, congresses and incentives with the participation of 76 buyers from more than 30 countries to learn about Cuba's natural attractions.
Tourism is the second source of foreign currency income for Cuba after professional services abroad.
The island's government sees the sector as one of the most dynamic and it's considered one of the main driving forces of its economic development.