Russian Tourists Soften the Disaster of Cuba’s High Season

A group of Russian tourists at the Jardines del Rey International Airport. / Mash/Capture/Telegram

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 22 March 2024 — Little by little, the plan for Russian tourism to grow is having an effect. International visitors coming from the friendly country this February were on the verge of reaching the number of Cubans residing abroad, according to data published by the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei), after having even surpassed that number in January. The figure for February is 21,574, slightly below the 22,272 of the previous month.

So far this year, Russian tourists already number 43,864, compared to the 46,080 Cubans residing outside the Island and, if this continues, the expectations detailed last week by the Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, could be exceeded. García stated that the Government “does not give up the objective of Russians occupying one of the first three places among foreign visitors to the country.” He also said that they hope to exceed 200,000 Russian tourists in the current year, an unambitious calculation, since in 2023 184,800 arrived.

In both 2018 and 2019 the number of tourists received was greater than 451,000, 68% more than last February

In general terms, it was not a bad month for the sector, which received 268,201 international travelers, slightly more than what is considered the best month of the year, January, when 259,808 arrived. The number represents 39,133 more tourists than in February of last year, some 17% more. The problem, again, comes when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

In February 2020, a month before the worst of the pandemic broke out and the airspace of almost the entire world was closed and international tourism was hit hard, Cuba received just over 401,000 foreign visitors, 50% more compared to the arrivals in the same month of 2024. However, in both 2018 and 2019 the number of tourists received was greater than 451,000, 68% more than last February.

While the majority of neighboring countries (such as the Dominican Republic and Mexico) and other international competitors with a sun and beach profile (such as Spain) have already far exceeded the data they had before the outbreak of Covid-19, the Island still lagging behind. In January, the Government announced the goal of 3.23 million international travelers by 2024 – far from the 2.4 million achieved in 2023, when it had planned to reach 3.5. It then argued that the failure in the sector is the fault of the United States which has turned tourism into a political weapon against Cuba.

Officialdom maintains that the restrictions introduced by Donald Trump in 2017, the travel alerts, the closure of consular services and the new conditions for travelers from the European Union, for whom Washington now requires a visa if they have visited Cuba, work against the Island. To this they add the drop in flights, whose recovery is gradual, and cruises, and they barely focus on the fact that the shortage of supplies inside and outside the hotels and the lack of electricity lead many tourists to choose other destinations to the detriment of the Island.

Canadians continue to lead the list of visitors, as usual and despite the alert that the Ottawa Government issued in October due to the shortages of food and medicine. In in the first two months of 2024 there are already 261,016 Canadian visitors, of which 133,844 came in February (up from 127,172 the previous month). And Americans, the fourth most frequent visitors, just behind the Russians, amounted to 28,288 in these two months, despite the travel restrictions they face.

On the opposite side, another country with an upward trend is Mexico, and is the country growing the most after Russia

European countries remain far below pre-pandemic years. With about 13,000 visitors each, Germany and France remain at last year’s level, while the number of British (12,057 compared to 13,597 the previous year), Italians (8,733 compared to 11,374) and Spanish (8,710 compared to 10,615).

On the opposite side, another country with an upward trend is Mexico, which is the fastest growing after Russia. So far this year, there are already 8,850 Mexicans who have traveled to Cuba, compared to 6,834 in the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Government does not give up on its strategy of strengthening tourism through construction, a path unjustified by hotel occupancy figures, which reveal that last year three out of every four rooms were left empty.


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