The number of foreign visitors coming to the island dropped by almost 10%, the result of both US pressure and European markets sailing stormy seas.
HAVANA TIMES – Tourism dropped significantly in Cuba in 2019, after having experienced substantial growth for 11 years in the running. Recent figures from Cuba’s Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), confirm that the number of foreign visitors coming to the island dropped by 9.3%.
According to ONEI, Cuba received 4,275,558 visitors in 2019 and found itself moving away from the dream of reaching 5 million foreign visitors in a year for the first time, a plan that the Ministry of Tourism had still pushed in the early months of the year.
This blow became obvious as Donald Trump’s administration went at full steam to limit transport options to Cuba (cruise ships and airlines), which was rounded off this year with a ban on charter flights too, as well as a long list of lawsuits and pressure against hotel chains belonging to other countries that do business with Cuba.
After having grown at a dizzying pace over a three-year period, the number of US visitors dropped to 498,067, approximately 140,000 less than in 2018. Washington’s actions were like a slap in the face for travel agencies and US travelers who are hooked on visiting the island, after the rapprochement process began under former president Barack Obama’s government, reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.
The stream of visitors coming to the island had constantly been on the rise since 2008, really taking off after 2015. In a three-year period (2016-2018), the increase figured at 1 million and it inspired a large-scale investment program for hotels and other installations.
However, the greatest blow for the Cuban tourism industry came from European markets, as a result of both economic and political problems, especially when one of the most prominent tour operators, Thomas Cook, went bankrupt. The bankruptcy of this British company immediately stopped thousands of visitors from coming to Cuba.
According to ONEI’s report at the end of December, Europe’s five main traditional markets experienced a sharp decline in sending tourists to Cuba: Germany (ended with only 83.9%), France (85.7%), Spain (87.1%), Italy (75%) and the UK (65.1%).
Another important market, Mexico, also finished the year with negative numbers: 84.6%.
Russia took advantage of this situation, to take fourth place as a tourist market, having sent 176,964 visitors in 2019, 129.5% compared with the 2018 figure.
Cuba’s largest traditional tourism market, Canada, remained stable still taking the lead, having grown by 0.9% (1,119,853 visitors), followed by the Cuban community abroad, which was one of the few markets to increase in the year, having grown by 3.9% with a total of 623,972.