French President Francois Hollande was, in May last year the first Western head of state to visit Cuba after the thaw in relations between the Caribbean island and the US.
It was an investment for the future, a pragmatic move by the president to lay foundations to grow political and economic partnerships.
French companies are already operating in Cuba with the Pernod Ricard group part of a joint venture with Havana Rum. The company’s subsequent global growth has been hailed as an unbridled success by International Managing Director Jerome Cottin-Bizonne. Around 500 million bottles of rum were sold last year.
But France is only the fourth foreign investor with Spain top of the league followed by Canada and Italy.
French tourists number in the region of 117,000 a year and though that figure will rise it is still far behind those travelling from Canada.
They represent over a third of the three and a half million who visited the island in 2015 a rise of 17 percent since 2014.
But accommodation is a problem. There are just 63,000 rooms at the moment putting the tourist industry under strain.Authorities aim to take that number to 85,000 by 2020.
Foreign investment will be vital to help build Cuba’s infrastructure to cope with tourists. Industry experts have voiced their concern the island will not be able to absorb an even greater surge when US commercial airline and ferry services start later this year.
The telecom industry is another area in need of investment. Cubans had to rely on access via satellite to the web due to the US embargo. In 2011 Venezuela laid a fibre optic cable. The US has proposed a similar link between Havana and Miami. But still only 150,000 Cubans were able to connect to the internet each day in 2015. There are 11 million inhabitants on the island.
European businesses are now visiting Cuba in unprecedented numbers. Last year 75 companies accompanied Spain’s Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism Jose Manuel Soria. One hundred and forty Italian firms sent representatives.
“A new moment full of opportunities” is how the Spanish minister summed up his visit.
One such opportunity is the Mariel economic zone which allows wholly owned foreign companies to repatriate profits under a favourable tax regime.
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