Cuba can handle the surge of American travelers expected if travel restrictions to the island were lifted, according to Miguel Figueras, an advisor at the Cuba Ministry of Tourism.
ASTA estimated earlier this year that the initial surge could be 850,000 U.S. tourists a year, excluding cruise passengers and Cuban-American family visitors.
Figueras doesn't believe that many U.S. tourists would come in the first year. The number of American visitors would increase slowly if the ban were lifted because it would take time for airlines to develop routes and for operators and agents to put together Cuba packages, Figueras said.
"This is not an American tsunami that will happen overnight. It will take time," he said.
Cuba has about 48,000 hotel rooms. Foreign companies, including Sol Melia and Accor, manage 49 hotels.
"We plan to build 30 new hotels with 10,000 rooms and 10 golf courses by 2014, regardless of whether or not the travel ban is lifted," Figueras said. "Americans are welcome here, and we are prepared for them, but our development plans are not dependent upon them coming."
President Obama’s loosening of travel rules for Cuban-Americans in April resulted in a sharp increase this spring in the number of passengers flying to Cuba from the U.S.
However, the global economic crisis is cutting into the length of stay and the amount of money spent in Cuba, not only for Cuban-Americans but for all visitors, Figueras said.
Revenue dropped 14% in the first quarter over the same period last year, although the number of visitors increased 1.9%, according to Cuba’s National Statistics Office.
Interest in Cuba among American businesses is high, according to Figueras. He cited talks with U.S. companies about hotel and golf course projects that might happen should the embargo end.