Diego Manzano from Spain is visiting Cuba for the first time. As part of his tour of the island, he has come to Jardines del Rey to, as he says, "enjoy this little piece of paradise." Like him, more than 3,120 visitors are today staying in the 16 facilities across this northern string of keys.
Jardines del Rey, one of the most visited sun and beach destinations in the country, now has 7,720 rooms distributed across the keys of Guillermo and Cayo Coco. Important global hotel chains such as Sol Melía, Iberostar, Pestana, Acor, Memories and Sercotel operate in the resorts, alongside Cuban hotel chains Gran Caribe, Cubanacán, Gaviota, and Islazul.
A DESTINATION WITH A NEW IMAGE
Following the passage of Hurricane Irma more than 70% of hotels on these keys suffered damages. However, today they are all providing services and offering a new and renovated image to visitors, explains Lesner Gómez Molina, deputy delegate of the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) in Ciego de Ávila.
"Hotel facilities suffered damage mainly to roofing, marquetry, and windows. The beach restaurants were almost all destroyed by the sea but today you can see a different picture," he adds.
Mintur and government entities created a steering committee to respond to the damages. Immediately, explains Gómez Molina, the clean up and collection of debris began. Two weeks after the hurricane, construction works commenced.
"We must recognize the participation of the national Emprestur groups, the military construction units, as well as the Ministry of Construction in several provinces that provided their services to repair the hotels. We must also highlight the efforts of workers at all the facilities who helped throughout the recovery," the Mintur representative notes.
With regard to infrastructure, today we can also appreciate the total recovery of water and communications networks. The investments made before the hurricane, for the undergrounding of power lines, prevented greater damage in this regard.
Meanwhile, the causeway to Cayo Coco has been restored and work continues on the causeways to Cayo Paredón and Cayo Cruz, where planned investments for 2018 include the construction of new hotels.
On November 1st, all Jardines del Rey facilities began to receive guests and today they are ready for the peak season, beginning December 15, and offering a completely renewed product.
"I'm super surprised, I asked around and I really can't believe how quickly everything has been restored. They told me what the hotel was like and how all the employees helped to speed up the process. I was a little scared because my travel dates were very close to everything that had happened, but it's all impeccable," notes an Argentine visitor.
BETTER BEACHES, MORE SERVICES
"Jardines del Rey maintains its crystal clear water and fine sands," notes Gómez Molina. The beaches were not damaged and the hurricane actually resulted in more sand today.
"Last year there was a significant dumping of sand on these beaches. The investment, of more than 8 million dollars, was conducted by the Ministry of Tourism and that of Science, Technology and Environment, Citma. It was carried out in three sectors: Playa del Paso, belonging to Cayo Guillermo, Playa Flamenco and Playa las Coloradas, in Cayo Coco. This year this same action is due to be carried out in Playa Larga," the official adds.
As well as its hotel resorts, Jardines del Rey has among its attractions a range of other facilities. These include shopping centers, amusement parks, and the dolphinarium, recreational areas that, like its hotels, have been renovated. Today, all diving, fishing, catamaran, and safari centers are operating. There are also new wi-fi services in the area.
"The Cayo Coco and Guillermo marinas reopened, as did the dolphinarium. The dolphins are back in their habitat, the relocation (during the hurricane) was successful and clients can also enjoy the comforts of the site. The dolphinarium now has new footbridges, furnishings, and a renovated bar," explains Gómez Molina.
Cayo Guillermo airport has been back in operation since November 3, receiving flights from Canada, the UK, Russia, and Argentina. A new domestic flight route connecting Havana, Cayo Coco, and Holguín is also set to begin operating, providing an important connection for tour operators who do not offer direct flights to the destination.
Two of the most popular attractions for visitors are the water skiing cableway and the Crystal Tower climbing park. These novelties mark the difference between this and other destinations.
"The Crystal Tower, an installation of more than 90 attractions for children, young and not so young people, suffered no damage during the hurricane. Today it continues to be promoted especially for those who like to climb and glide through the air. There we find a mechanical swing, a free fall of more than 12 meters and many other attractions. Meanwhile, the cable ski is the only attraction currently closed, and is expected to reopen in January," explains Gómez Molina.
MORE THAN SUN AND BEACHES
"Cuba is a country that offers you many different and great things," comments a Spanish visitor.
"Jardines del Rey is not only sun and beaches, it is also history and nature. Today the tourist destination has better conditions, improvements and a new product to face the high season. We want people to leave with fond memories," says Gómez Molina, before continuing:
"The challenge is to reinforce the quality of services, for clients to leave satisfied with the service, with the food, the variety of drinks, the entertainment, the excursions, something that will only be possible with the support of workers."
According to the Mintur representative, December promises to be a good month for the sector. Jardines del Rey will end the year as planned, despite the hurricane, and with facilities restored, ready to host peak season holidaymakers with the expected quality.
Today its main market continues to be Canada, followed by the United Kingdom, Russia, and Portugal. During the summer, second place is occupied by the national market, while in months like the present only some 300 Cuban guests visit.
The province of Ciego de Ávila, including the keys of Jardines del Rey and the nearby mainland city of Morón, has a total of more than 8,024 rooms ready to welcome visitors.
In 2016, Jardines del Rey welcomed more than 450,000 visitors, and up until the end of September this year, there had been growth of more than 15% in visitor numbers. The expectations are that Jardines del Rey will continue to contribute to the tourist sector and consequently the economic development of the country. (Granma)