TORONTO — “Together, we will face the new challenges of post-pandemic era.”
That’s the message from Alexei Torres Velázquez, Director of Marketing, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts Cuba, for Canadian travel advisors and the Canadian travel trade.
Through the difficult times of the pandemic, Iberostar Cuba had to lean on direct access channels to stay in touch with consumers, “as more immediate forms of interaction with the public” in rapidly-changing times, he notes.
That said, Cuba has long been and continues to be a destination well-served by tour operators, especially from Canada. “We are very happy about this because who better than the travel agent to recommend a destination, far from the impersonality that online channels tend to have at times?”
He adds: “Tour operators and travel agents are undoubtedly the best connoisseurs of destinations and their characteristics, which is why we at Iberostar are committed to travel agents and their expertise.”
Travelweek caught up with Velázquez to find out all the latest updates with Iberostar Cuba, including details about its newest property, The Coral Level at Iberostar Selection Esmeralda, “our newest jewel in Cuba.”
Travelweek: What are you hearing from guests returning for their long-awaited and much-anticipated vacations with Iberostar Cuba?
Velázquez: “The clients that visit our hotels leave with a high rate of satisfaction and our return rate exceeds 40%. The charisma of our staff combined with the stability of our team manages to create a true atmosphere of familiarity in each of our hotels. This combined with our excellent locations and high standards of gastronomy that we offer, makes us a unique brand in Cuba.
“Another point that differentiates Iberostar, and that has high value to the Canadian market, is our sustainable tourism initiative ‘Wave of Change’. It’s a pioneering action program dedicated to the oceans and to leading responsible tourism. Our mission is simple: to focus on the biggest challenges facing the oceans by using the strengths of the tourism industry and the private sector to devise solutions. By doing so, we strengthen the resilience of business and destinations for future generations.”
Travelweek: How is the Canadian market shaping up for bookings?
Velázquez: “We know that we have had two years of pandemic and we had to deal with different obstacles. The fluctuations suffered by air connectivity between Cuba and Canada have prevented us from having the usual occupancy values from this market.
“Bearing this in mind, we at Iberostar believe that the contained vacation desires of Canadian customers will be an important take-off point for the spring and summer season. There are some points that are in our favour at this moment, including the high immunity indexes reached in both countries. In Cuba’s case, 95% of people are vaccinated with vaccines developed in this country, which has caused the infection rates to be dramatically reduced. If we add to this the flexibility of the sanitary protocols between borders as a result of a visible control of the pandemic, it will bring with it a reactivation of the air connectivity, making it possible for trips to Cuba from Canada to return progressively to normality.”
Travelweek: What’s new with Iberostar Cuba’s resorts?
Velázquez: “During the long years of the pandemic our hotels were reopening progressively.
“Today we are pleased to announce that not only do we have our 18 hotels reopened, but that we have opened a new hotel in a new key, a virgin tourism destination ready to be discovered: The Coral Level at Iberostar Selection Esmeralda, our newest jewel in Cuba.
“The hotel is located on Cayo Cruz, part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago and situated in front of the Old Bahamas Channel and in the central-eastern part of the northern Cuban coast, in the province of Camagüey.
“The nearest connectivity with these 26 km-long keys is the Jardines del Rey International Airport located in Cayo Coco, only one hour away, that connects with Cayo Cruz through 70 km-long causeways.
“The new Coral Level at Iberostar Selection Esmeralda is inspired by the coffee plantations and the old Cuban agricultural architecture of the 19th century, with a design that’s reminiscent of a Creole hacienda. Among its attractions is Iberostar’s first Upscale hotel in Cuba’s northern keys, with virgin tropical and coastal landscapes with exuberant fauna and coastal vegetation, ideal for fishing and diving activities, as well as a destination to connect with nature.
Travelweek: What about resort renos?
Velázquez: “The pandemic pause also allowed us to renovate a large part of our hotel portfolio, with more than 80% of our facilities refurbished.
“New room categories, concepts and common spaces are accompanied by our ‘How We Care’ program, specially designed to preserve your health during your stay at the hotel.
“Perhaps the best example of this is the remodelled buffet at Iberostar Selection Varadero, which under the Single Touch model is the first one of its kind in Cuba. It not only maintains the healthiness of the food, but also keeps the food at the right temperature during the dining service. The famous beach grill at the Iberostar Tainos, much appreciated by Canadian guests, and the swimming pool at the Iberostar Bella Costa are other refurbished areas that both new and repeat guests can enjoy during their stay with us.”
Travelweek: What do you want to say to Canadian travel advisors right now?
Velázquez: “Although the pandemic forced us to a necessary migration to online channels, emphasizing direct access channels to the consumer as more immediate forms of interaction with the public, Cuba continues to be a destination where access is primarily through tour operators, and we are very happy about this because who better than the travel agent to recommend a destination far from the impersonality that online channels tend to have at times?
“Tour operators and travel agents are undoubtedly the best connoisseurs of destinations and their characteristics, which is why we at Iberostar are committed to travel agents and their expertise.
“We target travel agents with a message that guides us in our campaigns – ‘I Can’t Wait to See You Again’ – because we are eager to have them back. They receive a warm welcome in each of our hotels by the great Iberostar family.
“We want to update them on what we have done, and what we are doing, so that they keep us top-of-mind. And above all, we want them to know how together we will face the new challenges of post-pandemic era.”