With the Return of American Airlines to Santa Clara, Cuba Hopes to Revive its Provincial Tourism

Arrival of an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 in the province of Villa Clara. (Abel Santamaría International Airport)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 November 2022 — At 09.00 am and with 172 passengers on board, the first American Airlines flight to land outside of the Cuban capital arrived at the Santamaría Cuadrado International Airport in Santa Clara on Thursday, after three years of Covid-19 suspension.

The US airline had already announced in October its reintroduction of operations outside of Havana — including the destinations of Varadero, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba. The Villa Clara airport announced on Facebook that American Airlines will operate twice daily flights between Santa Clara and Miami, with a capacity to carry just over 170 passengers on each journey.

The provincial press recognises that the greatest influx of tourists to the Island comes from Canada, but the Miami connection signifies “a considerable increase in operations” at the air terminal, which receives between 30 and 49 flights a week.

American Airlines only had flights to Havana after the Trump administration prohibited commercial flights to smaller airports outside of Havana in October 2019. In June 2022 the United States Department of Transportation removed the restrictions, opening up the way for airlines to reinstate their routes.

United Airlines and Delta find themselves in a similar situation but these companies have had to delay their restart dates due to logistical problems, mainly because their contracts with service providers have run out, and the infrastructure at Havana’s José Martí airport has not yet been adjusted.

More than 200km from Villa Clara, at Juan Gualberto Gómez International Airport in Matanzas, the Polish airline Lot has also restarted operations and will fly weekly during the first part of the tourist high season.

A total of 252 passengers arrived in Varadero from Katowice, the majority to stay at tourist resorts, Rolando Marichal Pineda, director of the Cubacán company in Matanzas, told the Cuban News Agency.

Whilst the Cuban government is celebrating the increase in air traffic for the winter season, data confirms that tourism continues to fail to recover the ground it lost in 2020 with the pandemic. At the end of October the authorities recognised their failure to resuscitate the sector, one of the main generators of foreign currency, and they revised downwards their initial forecast of international arrivals from 2.5 million visitors to 1.7 million for the year 2022.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine  has also presented Cuban tourism with a bill to pay as Russia was the country that provided the most visitors to the Island in 2021. This year the numbers were down by 65%.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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