14ymedio, Havana, September 14, 2019 — Tourism, one of the few dynamic branches of the Cuban economy, is also in crisis. Official statistics published this Saturday by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) do not yet reflect the plunge in American visitors since July but do reflect a substantial fall in European travelers between January and June of this year.
Although it’s true that the number of tourists from the US increased some 40% in the first half of 2019 (from 266,185 in the same period in the previous year to 372,669), it’s necessary to stress that this increase is solely attributable to trips on cruise ships and, additionally, it is temporary given that Washington prohibited them in June so that Havana would cease its interference in Venezuela and its support for Nicolás Maduro.
In a statement made in July, the Minister of Tourism himself, Manuel Marrero, explained that the suspension of cruises would affect “more than 560,000 Americans in the rest of the year,” which allows one to predict a total collapse of the only sector of tourism that was expanding.
Since the prohibition on cruise ships, the arrival of foreigners in Cuba has decreased at least 20% according to official figures, although some economists believe that the percentage is even greater.
Official figures were just published on international tourism in Cuba in the first half of 2019. Compared with the same period of 2018, visitors increase (+2.4%), revenue barely increases (+0.2%) and the occupation rate is reduced (-6.8%) pic.twitter.com/IYGLrbb4qR
-Pedro Monreal (@pmmonreal)
Canada continues to be the primary source of visitors (more than 725,000 in the first half of the year), with a slight growth of 1.1%, while Cuban-Americans (305,680) are in third place and are the only ones to register a significant increase (6.4%).
On the other hand, the five main European clients are losing interest in Cuba: France (-10.3%), Germany (-10.4%), England (-17.8%), Spain (-15%), and especially Italy (-25%). Nationals of those countries totalled more than 516,000 in the first half of 2018, but only 437,000 in the equivalent period of this year.
Despite the decrease in European visitors, the total arrival of tourists grew 2.4%. However, revenues only increased 0.2% (as always, ONEI doesn’t say anything about the costs of running hotels, which doesn’t allow one to know the true earnings of the State in that sector).
Even more worrying for the Government is the fact of the occupancy rate in hotels, which fell 6.8% and is at 43.6% total capacity. This means that almost six rooms out of every ten have remained empty during the first half of the year.
The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, who follows the situation closely via his blog and his Twitter account, predicts that the occupancy rate will continue falling in the second half of the year, and calls into question the official policy that bets on the construction of new hotels for international tourism.
“There is a contradiction between the depressed hotel occupancy rate and the increase in hotel capacity, which should grow with more than 4,000 new rooms in 2019. Unless it is explained in a conclusive manner, the enormous investment that implies doesn’t seem justified,” he points out in an analysis of the latest figures from ONEI.
These results do not come at the best time for the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel, who faces a severe crisis caused by the poor management of the economy, the increase in sanctions from the United States, and, above all, the collapse of his Venezuelan ally and benefactor.
This week Díaz-Canel has called on Cubans to be prepared for more sacrifices and hardships. To get out of this “temporary situation,” the leader has promised that tourism will have an important role. ONEI’s figures do not seem to indicate that the economic recovery will take that route.
Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera
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