Tourism in Cuba is Still Depressed and is Saved Thanks to Canadians

The forecasts of receiving 3.5 million tourists this year are in jeopardy, after a very poor first quarter. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, April 25, 2023 — At the gates of the Cuban Tourism Fair (FitCuba), which will start on May 1 with the presence, among others, of about 400 travel agents at a convention organized by the Spanish DIT Gestión, the data of the sector reflect a very deficient first quarter. As of March, 926,732 travelers had arrived on the Island, of which 752,459 were tourists, 48.5% less than in March 2019, the last normal first quarter before the pandemic, when the figure was 1,460,408 foreigners.

The data have not been adequately compiled this April due to the work of updating the page of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), which prevents normal access to this month’s reports. However, the Cuban Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, provided an approximate figure in a meeting with the authorities of the branch, and this morning the report was partially visible on the ONEI website.

In total, 263,470 international visitors arrived in Cuba in March, a better figure than in January (249,255) and February (239,734), which are traditionally months of greatest influx. However, although the official note highlights that this growth represents 239.1% compared to the same period in 2022, the Island is not making a comeback, far from it compared to the years preceding the outbreak of COVID-19.

In the first quarter of 2018, 1,383,895 tourists traveled to Cuba and in 2017, 1,469,919 did so, almost double the number (45.5% and 48.8% respectively) of this year. These data consolidate the idea that the goal of 3.5 million tourists for 2023 may again be difficult to achieve.

Last February, the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal made an estimate of the number of foreign visitors that the Island should have received in the first two months of the year for the projection to be consistent, and placed it at 717,500, calculating that, usually, at that point it is necessary to have reached 20% of the total. At that time, the deficit was already 228,511.

“The next data for the month of March must be decisive to confirm a possible trend because the first quarter has usually been the most important, concentrating approximately a third of the annual visitors (average of 32% in 2017-2019),” the expert added. That amount should, according to these calculations, be 1,120,000 tourists, 367,541 more than those who have actually arrived.


Official tourism statistics in Cuba indicate that it could be problematic to reach the goal of 3.5 million tourists in 2023. The accumulated amount for the first two months falls short by 228,000 visitors compared to the level that should be compatible with the goal  — Pedro Monreal (@pmmonreal) March 24, 2023

By nationality, there’s nothing unexpected. Canadians are still in first place and are more than half of the total number of international travelers received so far this year, with 387,071. Behind is the Cuban community abroad, with 83,670, and the United States, with 41,152.

Russia repeats third place, with 32,224, although it still does not reach the figure it had last year (36,677), when the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine had not yet affected tourism in a sudden way. We will have to wait until April for the balance to be positive, since by that date in 2022 there were no flights left between the Island and its Eurasian partner, which in previous years was the market with the highest growth.

The Europeans – Germany (22,700), France (19,478), England (18,301), Spain (16,993) and Italy (16,048) – also do not recover the numbers they had in the past, although they still represent a good share of the Cuban market in a ranking that ends with Mexico, at 10,610. The large group formed by other countries now contributes 104,212 travelers, whose origins are unknown.

In this context, the ruling party persists in last year’s error and continues to present the data in an optimistic way, insisting that there is a recovery that only occurs if the data is compared with the collapse that occurred during the pandemic.

The majority of countries in which tourism is one of the great engines of the economy have recovered and even surpassed the pre-pandemic figures, as is the case of Spain, which closed with a growth of 8.3% compared to 2019, and this year is expected to be even greater; or, a direct competitor, the Dominican Republic, which in the first quarter of 2023 has received 2,076,171 tourists, compared to 1,876,144 in the same period in 2019.

Juan Carlos García Granda warned last March that “it would be a mistake to continue with the working methods and systems of previous years, because adverse conditions for Cuba and a global crisis persist.” However, nothing seems to change in the leaders’ plans.

FITCuba 2023 will try to sell “the security of the country and the friendly nature of Cubans,” as has transpired in the press releases of the event, at a time when the shortage and the aggravated crisis, both of supplies and food, are causing an increase in vandalism and crime, and when hopelessness and sadness are reflected more than ever, since the years of the Special Period, on the faces of Cubans.

Despite this, activities of gastronomic excellence and cocktails are prepared within the framework of the event, including a private sector competition. The participation of thousands of people from dozens of countries is expected, as well as hotel chains, airlines, tour operators and travel agencies.

In addition, in the last few hours the Spanish wholesaler Cinco Estrellas Club, in coordination with the Blue Diamond Resorts and Meliá Hotels International chains, announced the launch of Cuba as a new destination within its summer programming, with seven programs and circuits that can already be booked, while Tui, based in Madrid, activated this Monday an active promotion until May 7 that includes a 7% discount for more than 2,300 departures to the Island until October.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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