HAVANA – The non-state portion of Cuba’s tourism industry already boasts 8,000 rooms and continues to grow, official daily Juventud Rebelde said Friday, citing Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero.
The minister made the comments Wednesday during an event at the seaside resort of Varadero.
Cuba’s tourism sector enjoyed a “magnificent” first quarter as international arrivals increased by 15 percent, according to Marrero.
“We expect that the rest of 2015 will be very good,” he added.
Cuba currently has roughly 1,600 “paladares” – privately owned restaurants – as well as 8,000 private lodgings, equivalent to 13 percent of the 60,000 rooms in state-run hotels.
The growth of non-state tourism enterprises is a result of economic reforms launched in 2010 by the government of President Raul Castro to promote entrepreneurship.
Additionally, in 2013 the government authorized travel agencies to sign contracts with private hospitality businesses.
An increase in hotel and restaurant capacity is vital for the Caribbean country, whose tourism infrastructure faces the possibility of being overwhelmed when and if Washington eliminates all restrictions on U.S. residents’ travel to Cuba.
Cuba received 1 million foreign tourists in January-March, with Canada on top of the list of source countries, followed by Germany, France, Britain and Italy.
Last year, Cuba surpassed 3 million foreign visitors for the first time.
Tourism has become the Communist-ruled island’s No. 2 source of hard currency, behind fees for professional services.