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Cuba’s first quarter tourist arrivals break records

Cuba’s first quarter tourist arrivals break records

Posted by Juan Gavasa on March 30, 2015

According to pronouncements by the Cuban Tourism Ministry, a record breaking one million foreign vacationers have already travelled to Cuba this year. The figure represents a 14 percentage point spike in visitor rates for the first quarter of the year, easily surpassing tourism assessments by the Cuban government from March of 2014. An estimated three million foreign visitors reportedly vacationed in Cuba over the course of last year, and 2015’s early tourism surge promises to continue the boom.

The $2.6 billion Cuban tourism sector accounts for a considerable, and growing, portion of the island nation’s overall economic activity. Employment in fields associated with tourism, like the hotel and restaurant industries, generally offer relatively strong wages and are thus highly sought after by Cuban workers.

The expansion of Cuba’s lucrative tourism industry has been a top priority of the government in Havana since current president Raúl Castro assumed office in 2008. In partnership with a Brazilian conglomerate, the Cuban government recently spent $207 million upgrading the country’s international airport. Significantly, tens of thousands visit Cuba annually through state-sanctioned, and often state-sponsored, cultural and educational exchange programs.

While European countries like Germany, France, the U.K. and Italy are reportedly major sources of foreign travel to Cuba, vacationers from the U.S. are increasingly getting in on the action. Cuban authorities approximated around 600,000 American visits to Cuba last year, though it’s difficult to establish a wholly accurate number considering the fact that so many American tourists travel to Cuba through third party countries like Canada in an attempt to circumvent long-standing travel restrictions between the U.S. and the island destination.

If the U.S.’s ban on travel to Cuba were fully lifted, a likely outcome of diplomatic normalization efforts initiated by the U.S. and Cuban governments last December, Cuban officials contend that annual American trips to Cuba would jump to 1.5 million, yielding an additional $2 billion in tourism profits.

Still, not everyone is thrilled by the news that more Americans could be visiting the Caribbean nation in the near future. Some predict that Cuba’s already scare accommodations would be unable to keep pace with the influx of tourists from the U.S.

“[T]here won’t be enough hotels. There won’t be enough restaurants. There won’t be enough services to accommodate the Americans who will come like rats on a ship.” Canadian Rogelio Guavin complained to the Associated Press while on a trip to Cuba.

Still others worry that Cuba’s traditional character and values could be undermined by American materialist influences.

“Cuba has a very authentic atmosphere which you see nowhere else in the world,” tourist Gay Ben Aharon of Israel explained to the AP in Havana. “I wanted to see it before the American world … but also the modern Western world comes here.”

Cubans themselves, in most cases, appear much more optimistic.

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