Over 200 global hotel chains kicked off a two-day meeting here on Monday to explore future business opportunities in Cuba.

Cuba has the potential to become the second tourism destination in the region after Mexico, according to Arturo Garcia, president of the South American Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference (SAHIC).

“Cuba could expect the arrival of up to 12 million visitors in coming years, an unprecedented figure that will require organisation and infrastructure. The reason for this conference is for global companies to get involved in the development of the country’s tourism industry,” he said.

Senior executives from hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham, Hyatt, and IHG among others are participating in an event that Havana hopes will lead to greater investments in the Cuban tourism industry.

However, despite the presence of American heavyweights, US economic sanctions on Cuba make it difficult for them to negotiate any future deals.

Starwood, one of the biggest hospitality chains in the world, is the only US company to currently manage a hotel on the island. The 186-room Four Points by Sheraton Havana in the capital’s classy Miramar neighbourhood started operating in June 2016.

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Nevertheless, Cuba’s first deputy minister of tourism, Alexis Trujillo, said the Caribbean nation has 110 development projects in the sector open to foreign investment.

“Our business opportunities portfolio looks to diversify our tourism products, attract high standard or luxury sectors, and extend our hotel offering to real estate developments associated with golf courses, marinas and theme parks,” he said at the summit.

Important infrastructure projects under development include the construction of luxury hotels in Havana and the expansion of resorts in beach destinations like Varadero, Cayo Santa Maria and Holguin.

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“We are also ... inviting foreign companies to join us in the development of new tourism destinations like the Ramon de Antilla peninsula in Holguin, Cayo Cruz and Cayo Paredon Grande,” said Trujillo.

Earlier this month, at Cuba’s annual tourism fair, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said Cuba had broken the 2 million foreign visitors mark 39 days earlier than in 2016. By the end of March, Canada and the US accounted for the highest number of visitors, jointly accounting for 45 per cent of tourists.

American visitors to the island could increase sevenfold by 2025, according to a Boston Consulting Group report last week, which would put the current hotel and tourism infrastructure under strain.

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According to figures released on Monday at the summit by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Cuba saw total tourism income reach US$9 billion last year.

“This figure amounts to 10 per cent of this nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generates 500,000 jobs,” said David Scowsill, president of the WTTC.