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Cuba scrambling to keep its tourism industry afloat after being hard-hit by pandemic

Several people enjoy a day at the beach in Havana, Cuba. Picture: EPA

Several people enjoy a day at the beach in Havana, Cuba. Picture: EPA

Published Mar 7, 2022

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by Yosley Carrero

Havana - Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and below knee shorts, Spanish tourist Miguel Suarez enjoys a Cuban cigar before ordering at a restaurant in Havana's Old Quarter.

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The 52-year-old engineer, along with his wife and two adolescent sons, travelled to the Caribbean nation for a week, fleeing the hectic city life in Madrid, Spain.

"People here are kind, food is good, and the island is beautiful," he said. "This is what we needed to relax and forget our daily problems."

Mexican tourist Elena Cruz takes photos of fishermen alongside the city's seawall front and of American classic car taxi drivers desperately waiting for passengers.

"This is my first time in Cuba," she said. "I am going to the seaside resort of Varadero in the coming days. I don't want to leave the country without dancing salsa."

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Almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, bars and cafeterias once bustling with foreign tourists look largely devoid of people, hotel facilities operate at low capacity, and most rental houses remain closed.

Cuba received some 8 000 foreign tourists in January, compared to 22 000 vacationists in the same period last year, according to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

To Amelia Perez, a handicraft vendor on Obispo Street, the Covid-19 crisis has been a hard blow for her personal income as the number of tourist arrivals is far lower than pre-pandemic levels.

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"It is not a good time for business. A couple of years ago, I used to sell a huge number of ashtrays, keychains, hats, and wallets, but now it is quite different," she said.

The Cuban government has projected a 4-percent increase in the country's GDP for the year's end with the expected arrival of nearly 2.5 million tourists.

According to official statistics, this Caribbean nation only received some 500 000 international visitors in 2020, far lower than the nearly 4.2 million in 2019 before the start of the pandemic in Cuba.

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Garriga, who works as a tour guide for Havana's San Cristobal travel agency, told Xinhua that guided tours of the Cuban capital are few and far between nowadays.

"A handful of tourists who visit the island are looking for sun and beach destinations," she said. "A considerable number of tour guides are now working in other fields until better times come."

Jose Luis Perello, a university professor and tourism expert, told Xinhua that cruise ships are not arriving in Cuba as expected during the tourist high season on the island, which runs through April.

"For this country, it is vital to recover its main issuing markets, including Canada and the European countries, as well as to strengthen the joint work with world airlines and tour operators," he added.

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