by Noemi Galban, Raimundo Urrechaga
VARADERO, Cuba, March 13 (Xinhua) -- Drawing a greater number of Chinese visitors to Cuba is currently one of the priorities of the country's tourism industry in its efforts to increase revenues and expand services.
To attract a greater amount of Chinese visitors to the island, especially the Caribbean nation's top sun and beach resort town Varadero, is one of the industry's main tasks this year.
Located in the western province of Matanzas, about 140 km east of Havana, Varadero is one of the most sought out destinations in the Caribbean region after it was granted the Travelers' Choice Awards 2019 as the second best beach in the world by millions of reviewers of the travel website, TripAdvisor.
The Chinese market is still not among the top 10 most representative in the destination, but it "has had a growing trend over the last few years, and we closed 2018 with just over 43,000 Chinese tourists who visited Varadero," said Ivis Fernandez, representative of the island's Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) in Matanzas, told Xinhua.
This figure represents 93.5 percent of the over 46,000 Chinese visitors that chose Cuba as a tourist destination last year, 10 percent higher than in 2017.
Along with its natural attractions and the high-quality services which customers enjoy in the 52 resorts that operate in the peninsula, Cuban authorities have also undertaken a series of investments to expand and diversify offers beyond the all-inclusive hotels.
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.
"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.
Meanwhile, the historic Continental Cabaret nightclub is already being rebuilt close to the newly inaugurated Melia Internacional Hotel, Varadero's most emblematic facility.
In addition, Cuban tourism groups Cubatur and Gaviota provide trips to learn about the island's rich culture, history and tradition.
"We are offering excursions to learn about our world-famous Premium cigars, rum and coffee, leading products of Cuban agricultural exports. In addition, (we're adding) distinctive culinary options to satisfy the most exquisite demands of our clients," Fernandez explained.
In this regard, Osmany Martinez, manager at Varadero's "Casa del Ron" (House of Rum), stated the venue is a unique place whose purpose is not only to sell the most authentic brands of Cuba's famous liquor, but to share with tourists its surrounding culture.
Visitors can appreciate interactive exhibitions which show the history of the arrival in Cuba in 1511 of the sugar cane, the plant from which the spirit drink is made from, to the first factories and distilleries.
Inaugurated in 2001 and expanded in 2017, Varadero's "Casa del Ron" is the largest of its kind in the Caribbean nation with large selling areas and tasting rooms for clients to enjoy the singular flavor of Cuban rum.
Attracted by the reputation of different Cuban rum brands, hundreds of foreign tourists visit this facility daily as part of excursions like "Cuba: cigar and rum," which shows visitors the process of preparing these two distinct products.
"Another one of the most demanded off site trips is 'Cuban flavor' where the clients learn directly how to prepare famous local cocktails like the Mojito or Cuba Libre," said Martinez.
It's an experience that inspires tourists who are motivated to buy not only the ingredients of their favorite drink but the necessary utensils to prepare them, he added.
Since these initiatives began to be commercialized in 2016, they have been well-received by international visitors who spend their vacations in Varadero and look for something more than sun and sand to make their trip unforgettable.
With sales of around 5,000 Cuban convertible pesos (5,000 U.S. dollars) daily, the establishment serves not only to promote the island's local rum but also to pass on part of its history and culture.
Nearby is also "Factoria 43 Varadero," a facility that produces three types of beer and malt, drinks that are accompanied by a varied menu of distinct Cuban tapas or appetizers.
Just six months after its inauguration, "Factoria 43 Varadero" is the third of its kind built on the island and has become one of the most visited sites by tourists in Varadero, who look for attractive options to refresh from the scorching Caribbean sun.
"China is a market that we haven't managed properly because Chinese tourists have a culture of admiring things that are authentic," said Fernandez from the tourism ministry. "Varadero isn't just a beach, it has other attributes."