The Cuban resort of Varadero is waiting for the return of tourists from Russia

The main Cuban resort – Varadero – these days hosts the country’s largest tourism fair FITCuba, which has become a record number of participants this year. Three years later, when the exhibition was not held due to the pandemic, more than 5,200 travel industry professionals, tour operators, government and business representatives from 53 countries took part in the 40th anniversary event.

Despite the large number of guests, the almost complete absence of Russian representatives was striking. This year the organizers of FITCuba had to change the format of the fair and abandon the practice of inviting as a guest of honor of a particular country. This time, it was Russia that should have become such a country, which, before the suspension of direct flights to the Caribbean resort, confidently occupied the first place among other countries in terms of the number of tourists coming to Cuba. However, given the problems with logistics and difficulties in ensuring the mass presence of Russian representatives at the exhibition, the organizers decided not to invite anyone as an honored guest at FITCuba-2022. The fair itself is dedicated to unlocking the tourism potential of the Island of Freedom.

Russia is far away

And yet, the presence of Russia, although more virtual, is felt at FITCuba literally at every step. Almost at any stand telling about the sights of the republic, the correspondent of “RG” heard the words of Cuban hope for the speedy return of tourists from Russia to the Island of Freedom. However, for the tourism-dependent economy of Cuba, which is just beginning to recover from the coronavirus pandemic that hit the tourism industry, Russia is indeed one of the most important suppliers of tourists: last year 146,000 tourists from our country came here (for comparison, from Canada, which ranks second). place, 69 thousand people rested in Cuba).

The official Cuban authorities also talk about the importance and priority of the Russian market.

“We hope to restore the flow of tourists from Russia, from where the bulk of travelers came to us during the pandemic,” Cuban Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia Granda said on the eve of FITCuba. He also added that in order to create conditions for the return of Russian tourists, systematic work is underway to introduce the possibility of using cards of the Mir payment system in Cuba. “The Russian market continues to be one of our biggest priorities,” stated Garcia Granda.

Russia is near

In the meantime, the absence of Russia at the tourism exhibition in Cuba is compensated by smaller, but no less symbolic private projects. Within the framework of FITCuba, a joint Russian-Cuban diving center was opened in Varadero.

“We plan to conduct excursions throughout the Island of Freedom, because for divers it is a real paradise: many locations, picturesque reefs and almost deserted cenotes,” Roman Vytovtov, head of RusCubaDive, enthusiastically shares his plans with the RG correspondent.

The company works in partnership with the local firm Marl?n and is a successful example of interaction between foreign private businesses and Cuban state-owned companies. The resulting joint venture will be the first private diving center in Cuba. Russian tourists are especially welcome here: the company initially focused on Russians, which is why all the instructors here speak Russian. Roman tells me that many divers he knows are ready to come to Cuba. It remains to wait for the resumption of direct flights from Russia.

Waiting for Russian tourists

During the pandemic, many new places have opened in Varadero. For example, this is the restaurant of Russian cuisine “Bolshoy”, which has been successfully operating in the Cuban resort for more than a year. More recently, a copy of the famous Havana bar “Floridita” appeared here: here they make exactly the same as in the capital’s bar, the Daiquiri cocktail, which largely gained its popularity thanks to the writer Ernest Hemingway, who was known as a great lover of this frosty drink. As in Havana, in the “Floridita” in Varadero, the writer is reminded of his statue, located right behind the bar.

Meanwhile, in the evenings, the resort town is unusually quiet. Without vacationers from Russia, the resort town is empty. The center of attraction for tourists in the evenings is the boulevard reconstructed during the pandemic, on which there are numerous cafes, bars, discos, shops, and souvenir shops. Now Cubans mainly rest here, both living in Varadero itself and those who came here from other provinces: against the backdrop of a still modest foreign tourist flow, local authorities are largely betting on the development of domestic tourism.

“Usually, it was tourists from Russia who came to us, many of whom simply cannot stay in their hotels all day and try to go out for a walk in the evenings. And, of course, they came to us. Now there are fewer people. Although the hotels are gradually filling up: from In the same Canada, more and more tourists come every day, but not all of them reach us, ”the bartender tells me in one of the small cafes located right there on the boulevard.

If you drive a little further along First Avenue, you can see a lot of open, but empty restaurants… As locals say, many establishments have opened specifically for the duration of FITCuba, and after the end of the exhibition they will be closed until better times. These best times here are largely associated with the return of Russian travelers.

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