sun does not rise again after covid

By Juan Palop |

Havana (EFE).- Tourism has not taken off in Cuba after the pandemic. This strategic sector continues to be burdened by weak visitor numbers, US sanctions and the deep crisis that the country is suffering, which is detrimental to service and experience.

The celebration of the International Tourism Fair (FITCuba) from May 2 to 5, the main event for the sector on the island, highlights these challenges, the bets for 2024 and the national dependence on this industry, as this x-ray outlines. of the sector.

Tourism figures in Cuba

The Cuban Government aspires to reach 3.2 million tourists this year, although it remains to be seen if it will achieve it because if it maintains the pace of the first quarter it would barely reach the goal (and December-March is the high season).

The objective of 3.2 million would mean an improvement compared to the 2.7 million travelers in 2023. But it would still be far from the 4.2 and 4.6 million of 2018 and 2019, respectively. Meanwhile, comparable destinations in the region, Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) and Cancún-Tulúm (Mexico), are recording historic highs in visits.

Tourists walk through a square, on April 23, 2024, in Havana (Cuba). EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa

Hotel occupancy in 2023 stood at 25%, evidencing the distance between official expectations and reality, and also between the investment effort and the return.

The construction of new large hotels with Cuban capital when others remain almost empty has generated controversy around the Government’s budgetary priorities in a country in crisis where basic state services have palpably deteriorated in the last four years.

The markets

One of the dilemmas of Cuba’s destiny is that of its source markets. The natural one would be the United States, a great economic power with a large population just 150 kilometers away, but Washington’s sanctions make tourism difficult – although they do not prevent it.

Thus, Havana looks further. Canada has been the leading emitter for years (399,272 between January and March) and remains stable, but other European countries have fallen – especially Spain – or have remained stagnant in recent months.

Tourists chat in a restaurant on a street, on April 23, 2024, in Havana (Cuba). EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa

Among the causes are the deterioration of the quality of service due to the crisis – especially compared to other offers in the Caribbean – and the decision of the United States to not allow rapid ESTA visas for Europeans who have previously visited the island, by including Cuba. on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

Then there is Russia, with whom political closeness has reduced geographical distance. Both countries – affected by sanctions – have signed agreements to boost Russian tourism on the island, including health trips for workers from state companies. In the first three months of the year, 75,3866 Russians visited Cuba, twice as many as in the same period in 2023.

The organizers of FITCuba have put the focus of this edition on the Latin American region and the Caribbean. Air connections are increasing with these countries and visitors from Argentina and Mexico have increased in recent times, although it is difficult for Cuba to compensate – in number of visits and income – for the decline in other markets.

The crises

Cuba has been plunged into a deep crisis for four years due to the confluence of the pandemic and the tightening of US sanctions, but also due to design and implementation errors in national economic policies.

Two tourists ride in a car pulled by a horse, on April 23, 2024, in Havana (Cuba). EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa
Two tourists ride in a car pulled by a horse, on April 23, 2024, in Havana (Cuba). EFE/ Ernesto Mastrascusa

The tourism sector is not immune to this situation. The shortage of basic products and currency narrows the variety and quality of buffets in all-inclusive hotels, abandons cafes and restaurants to the unpredictable chance of blackouts, and leaves rental vehicles for tourists stranded indefinitely due to lack of fuel.

The paradox is that the crisis undermines the sector with which the Government intends to leverage to promote recovery. Because few national industries such as tourism have the potential to generate the income and foreign exchange that Cuba needs, whose gross domestic product (GDP) is today below 2019 levels.

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