Varadero, Cuba's main beach resort, was crowned the second best destination in the world for 2019 and is preparing to become an "eco-friendly beach" by 2020.
The goal of becoming eco-friendly is part of the government's strategy to protect the beaches in Varadero, which went from third to second place in the 2019 Travelers' Choice awards created by popular travel website TripAdvisor.
Brazil's Baia do Sancho beach won first place out of the 25 international beaches on the list, based on the "quantity and quality of the comments and ratings" collected by TripAdvisor throughout the year.
Varadero is on the Hicacos peninsula, which is more than 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) long, in the western province of Matanzas and 140 kilometers (about 87 miles) east from Havana.
In 2017, the vacation destination welcomed a record 1.7 million foreign visitors and currently has around 21,500 hotel rooms, of which more than 80 percent are in luxury properties.
Although Varadero offers natural beauty with its white sand beaches and crystal clear water, Cuban officials are working to improve and expand hotel offerings, raise standards and protect the beaches.
The Tourism Ministry's representative in Matanzas, Ivis Fernandez, said Varadero was making progress toward implementing the government's strategy for protecting beaches, led by the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry and the Institute of Physical Planning.
"Today, we have a special movement with very rigorous requirements for (hotel) operators that has allowed several hotel complexes to achieve the status of eco-friendly in the past few years, and we have set the goal within this strategy of declaring the entire beach (eco-friendly) by the year 2020," the tourism official told foreign journalists visiting the resort.
Fernandez said that in addition to Trip Advisor's recognition as the second best beach in the world, Varadero is celebrating its 132nd anniversary.
The region has become Cuba's leading beach destination and plays an essential role in the tourism industry, one of the most important sectors in the economy.
The next goal is to take first place and ensure that visitors find "a perfect beach" with excellent "sand, water (and) weather," and "people" in Varadero, the tourism official said.
The world-famous famous beach, according to Fernandez, welcomes more than 1 million visitors annually, with 52 percent of foreign visitors repeat customers.
In addition to its 22 kilometers of sand and dunes, Varadero has 52 hotel facilities, of which 83 percent are operated by prestigious foreign companies, such as Canada's Blue Diamond and Spain's Melia, Iberostar and Globalia.
The plan for the next three years calls for adding 3,000 rooms in five-star hotels; opening the Cabaret Continental; a theme park; a shopping mall; a golf club with a new hotel; and bringing back the Festival de la Cancion, a music festival that brought many international stars to the island in the 1970s.
Tourism, which is Cuba's second-largest source of income behind providing professional services abroad, accounts for 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and generates 500,000 jobs.
In 2018, the Caribbean island welcomed more than 4.7 million foreign tourists, a figure that was up 1.3 percent from 2017, but the number fell short of the goal of 5 million visitors.