by Noemi Galban, Raimundo Urrechaga
VARADERO, Cuba, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Turquoise clear waters, fine beach, high-standard hotel services, safety and many other attractions make Varadero one of the key resort destinations in the Caribbean.
However, Cuban authorities want to further develop this resort town, located in the western province of Matanzas and 140 km east of Havana, after it was granted the Travelers' Choice Awards 2019 as the second best beach in the world by millions of customers of the internationally renown travel website, TripAdvisor.
"We have started 2019 with this recognition and we are even more committed to the strategy of declaring Varadero an environmental beach and achieving the first place in customer satisfaction on this web page," Ivis Fernandez, representative of Cuba's Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) in Matanzas told Xinhua.
The 22-km-long peninsula has 52 hotels and 21,000 rooms, of which 83 percent are managed and marketed by prestigious foreign companies, most of them European.
According to Fernandez, during the last decade Varadero has received more than 1 million foreign visitors each year and the number has surpassed 1.5 million since 2016.
"Varadero is a perfect beach and has other attributes that distinguish it from other resort towns around the world like its security, luxury and high-standard facilities and the hospitality of the Cuban people," added the senior official.
Canada continues as the traditional main market with more tourists from Germany, Russia, Britain, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina as well as Cuba registered last year.
"It's a beautiful beach with crystal clear waters, sun, and perfect service. It is really charming. It is a very safe and quiet place and Cubans are very friendly" Rebecca Amos, a British tourist told Xinhua at a hotel in Varadero.
In the high season from November to May, Varadero's hotels are full of Canadians and Europeans avoiding the freezing winter temperatures and enjoying Cuban music, cocktails and clear waters.
"Varadero is a spectacular place, it has a beach like few others in the world. There are really few places on the planet as lovely and as safe as this" said Joseph Blattier, a Belgian tourist.
As Cuba seeks to attract more visitors, authorities have undertaken an ambitious development plan which not only includes new high-standard hotels throughout the peninsula but also other options which complement the tourism offer.
A long-term development plan until 2030 includes building 3,000 new rooms in five-star hotels and other facilities to provide services that round up the tourism experience for both locals and foreigners alike.
Earlier this year, the peninsula's emblematic Hotel Internacional reopened after being built further away from the beach due to environmental regulations, renovating its capacities and expanding its concept.
Three other hotels are already under construction in Varadero while the historic Continental Cabaret nightclub will be refurnished in the coming months.
"Preparations to build a theme park are taking place, along with a shopping center, a third marina on the south coast and a second golf course," said Fernandez.
According to MINTUR, Cuba has received 1 million visitors this year by March 3, a trend that will lead to a substantial growth.
Cuba received over 4.7 million tourists in 2018, a record number, despite new restrictions imposed by the United States limiting its citizens to travel to the Caribbean nation and the impact of Hurricane Irma and other climate related events.
MINTUR expects to receive 5.1 million visitors this year, an increase of 7 percent compared to 2018.