HAVANA, May 10 (Xinhua) -- Cuba's tourism industry leads the way for the island's economic development with revenues of over 3.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, and more cooperation with China in the sector is important for the country's plan to become the top destination in the Caribbean.
Joint ventures for hotel operations, new contracts with service providers or any other type of cooperation with Chinese companies are a priority for the Cuban government, not only to bring in more tourists but also to learn from the experience of different private or state firms in China.
"Real progress is being made in boosting collaboration with China in the tourism sector and we hope to announce new investments in the near future," Jose Daniel Alonso, director of business development at Cuba's Ministry of Tourism (Mintur), told Xinhua.
The intention, he said, is to replicate in the Caribbean nation the success achieved in the last nine years with the joint venture created between the island's Cubanacan group and China's Suntime Enterprise, which have operated the Grand Kempinski Shanghai Hotel.
"We want Chinese hotel operators in Cuba as we know they're magnificent and of very high level, but we haven't managed to bring them here. There is also a lot of experience in China in everything related to extra-hotel projects and that is what we need," he said.
Alonso said Mintur's purpose is to increase China's investments and businesses in Cuba.
Currently, he added, there are over 610 projects in the Cuban tourism sector with foreign investment, including hotels, recreational facilities, nature tourism developments, camping sites, nautical marinas and real estate and golf ventures.
There is already a Cuban-Chinese joint venture for the construction of a large hotel-apartment complex and an 18-hole professional golf course in an area called Bellomonte east of Havana.
"This investment is over 500 million U.S. dollars and currently we're finishing up the architectural project and feasibility studies which are vital to continue and begin construction works in 2020," Alonso said.
He also announced another Chinese company has been very interested in a new real estate project and golf course in Loma Linda, in the eastern province of Holguin, about 735 km east of Havana.
The senior official stressed cooperation with China in the tourism sector is not limited to investments.
"We are very interested in continuing to develop all issues related not only to hotel operation or real estate projects, but also the rental of cars that are mostly Chinese," he said.
Currently, the two Cuban companies which rent vehicles for tourists have over 8,500 automobiles and 65 percent of them are Chinese cars while almost all tourist buses in the country are Chinese made.
However, Cuba's goal is more ambitious as it wants to attract more Chinese tourists to its varied scenery like stunning beaches, rich cultural cities and breathtaking nature and wildlife.
"It is in the multi-destination activity where we see a lot of potential to attract more Chinese tourists who are very itinerant. They want to visit many places in a short time," he said.
Mintur has signed contracts in 2018 to combine destinations in Cuba with other countries in the Caribbean region like Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Costa Rica.
"We'll offer packages in China and other Asian nations with which tourists can visit Cuba and then go on to any of these nations as part of their vacations," he said.
Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero revealed earlier this week that China is among the top 15 tourism markets with a 10-percent growth in 2018 compared with the previous year.
Cuba received in 2018 a record high of 4.75 million international visitors and this year the Caribbean nation expects to attract 5.1 million tourists, representing a 7-percent growth.