An interview with the UK's ambassador to Cuba reveals the island's enormous potential for UK investors

Posted: 07-Nov-18 16:51

During a recent interview with Travel Trade Caribbean, the UK's ambassador to Cuba, Dr Antony Stokes, spoke of the incredible tourism potential the island had for UK investors. He also talked about the recent strengthening of relations between both countries and how upon the UK's departure from the EU, new opportunities for commercially engaging with the island would present themselves, as well as adding how a cultural programme was in place to strengthen ties between both nations.

An interview with the UK's ambassador to Cuba reveals the island's enormous potential for UK investors

His Excellency Dr Antony Stokes, ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Cuba, recently gave an interview to Travel Trade Caribbean and in it he spoke of Cuba's immense potential for UK investors, especially in the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as the noble goals, ideals and values that both nations upheld and the cultural links that united both countries which, he explained, would be explored in coming months and years thanks to a programme developed by the British Council.

Stokes began the interview by explaining both nations' current relationship, saying that in terms of commercial exchange and diplomatic relations, the current climate was full of potential as both countries embarked on a period of strengthening ties. More specifically, he went on to address the issue of the UK's departure from the EU and how they will continue to support the Union's rapprochement with Cuba (which is currently in a process of ratifying a new Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement) before putting in place new bilateral actions once they have left the EU after 19th March 2019.

According to Stokes, in the very near future, once the UK no longer has to abide by EU regulations, norms and agreements, as a sovereign and independent state they will have greater trading policy freedom and as such will be able to strengthen commercial ties with Cuba, in line with the Cuban government's aspirations for greater UK investment. But beyond new commercial relations and agreements, links between both nations will be extended in several ways, especially in areas related to culture and heritage.

While stressing that they do not have unlimited resources, Stokes revealed that the embassy has decided to increase their efforts to support more projects and mutually beneficial actions on the island:

"We have decided to make a greater commitment here in order to support more projects, more activity, more scholarships. We are focused on several priorities, areas in which we can offer something a bit special, different, unique; areas in which both countries can create added value."

One of these actions, among many others to be further explored in a future blog piece, is the creation of joint projects to invest in the addition of new hotels and thus support Cuba's ambitious growth plans in the tourism sector. This is an area where the Caribbean island is ripe with opportunity, as pointed out by Stokes himself:

"Tourism is very important for us. We are one of Cuba's principal sources of tourists, and last year, according to the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), more than 200,000 British visitors arrived, representing a growth of more than 30% in two years."

Addressing tourism specifically, Stokes said that one of the world's biggest investors, the British Aberdeen Standard Investments Company (ASI) had dived head first into Cuba's potential by managing Ceiba Investment and becoming the first direct Cuban Fund to be listed on the London Stock Exchange as of last 9th October.

On the topic of tourism, he continued by explaining how the UK had been actively involved in the recovery process following the trail of destruction left by Hurricane Irma in Cuba last year.

"I believe we are the country that has most contributed to this programme; we are very proud to have worked once again ‘side by side' with the Cubans in this reconstruction of homes and infrastructure, so that Cuba can return to its normalcy, and we hope that this hurricane season will be more tranquil than the last one."

Stokes also made reference to tourism mega-projects being carried out in Cuba with UK stakeholders, such as the new Carbonera Club, a new luxury golf development financed by Esencia Hotels and Resorts, chaired by former Scotland Office minister, Brian Wilson.

According to Stokes, other big projects co-financed with British funds are in the pipeline, although he didn't reveal any more details. He did stress, however, that these were very large investments, important for "a high-level tourism".

Before ending the subject of the future of tourism in Cuba and the UK's involvement in it, the ambassador expressed his gratitude to MINTUR (Cuba's Ministry of Tourism) for having declared his country a guest of honour during FITCuba 2018. He also took the opportunity to mention key UK companies operating in Cuba's tourism market today:

"It was a very useful opportunity for us and for the British tour operators who operate in Cuba, from the biggest like Thomas Cook and TUI, to other smaller agencies like Virgin Holidays, Holiday Place and Captivating Cuba; and we received the backing of MINTUR, especially that of Manuel Marrero, a very energetic minister."


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