China’s flagship airline has opened a commercial office in Cuba, aimed at boosting tourism and trade between the two countries and the region. Air China’s Havana service is the only direct flight between Beijing and the Caribbean.
CGTN’s Michael Voss has this report.
The new Air China office in Havana, marks the latest stage in the ever closer ties between Cuba and China.
China’s ambassador to Cuba joined the general in charge of Cuba’s civil aviation authority for the official ribbon cutting ceremony.
“This direct flight has played an important role in facilitating personal exchanges between Cubans and Chinese and also with Latin America,” Ambassador Chen Xi said. “It has also contributed a lot to the development of cooperation in different areas.”
Air China’s inaugural direct flight to Havana was in December 2015. Since then, some 24,000 passengers of different nationalities have used the service.
There is a stopover in Montreal, and much of its business is serving the large Chinese community on the east coast of Canada. It also provides competition with Air Canada for the Cuban leg of the journey.
There is a small but growing number of Chinese tourists coming to Cuba, but there is also a considerable number of businesspeople looking for opportunities.
Wang Zheng is a Havana-based travel agent specializing in Chinese business and trade delegations. Last year, he dealt with 8,000 visitors from China.
He also organizes tours to show them the island in their free time.
Cultural sights like the house of the late American author Ernest Hemingway are popular, as are cigar factories where workers still hand roll every cigar.
But what many Chinese visitors also want to discover is Cuba’s revolutionary heritage.
“The Cuban revolution is really significant for us,” according to Wang. “Many Chinese want to go to the Museum of the Revolution, the University of Havana, the history and legends of Fidel and the continuing struggle of the Cuban people. This has always been part of the Chinese tourist program.”
Until these direct Air China flights, most visitors flew with Aeroflot or Air France, changing planes in Moscow or Paris. By opening a commercial office in Cuba, Air China is raising their flag in what remains a competitive market.