Cuba’s Tourism Industry Suffers Sharp Decline

By IPS Cuba

The waning number of tourists on Cuban beaches became clear in 2019.  Photo: Jorge Luis Banos/ IPS

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.

After becoming a normal feature in the Havana port’s landscape, cruise ships belonging to the most important shipping companies have disappeared as the result of pressure from the Trump administration.  Photo: Jorge Luis Banos/ IPS

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.


20 thoughts on “Cuba’s Tourism Industry Suffers Sharp Decline

  • Note that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (nicknamed “La Loba Feroza” by the late Fidel Castro) no longer serves the halls of Congress, and that Mitt Romney promised to return to Bush-era restrictions on Cuban American family travel to Cuba and indict the Castros for the 1996 BTTR shootdown during his 2012 election campaign (he was unaware that Fidel was not in power).

    Just imagine if the Trump administration’s failure to restore consular staff at the US Embassy in Havana and the botched nature of Trump’s Cuba travel policies costs Trump the Miami area, and it’s important to know that two Cuban-American lawmakers from New Jersey are Democrats, and that there are three Cuban American congresspeople from outside New Jersey and Florida (Ted Cruz from Texas, Alex Mooney from West Virginia, and Anthony Gonzalez from Ohio). The fact that Menendez, Sires, Cruz, and Mooney were not involved in devising Trump’s Cuba policy would further reinforce the opinion of many that Trump’s sanctions package was about domestic electoral politics, not an ironclad commitment to a free and democratic Cuba. We could see Mario Diaz-Balart lose reelection to a Nicaraguan American attorney.

  • I had planned to stay 6 months but it looks like that will drop if our canadian dollar is only worth half now ,the governments need to reslove this asap ,screw the us embargo its not what helps pay the wages we give to the cuban people ,and i wont be bringing my camera, or my laptop ,now i know that they cant be trusted ,mr president. You need to make a solid move to protect your bread and butter. We canadians dont like thieves ,or to be taken advantage of. I hope my trip there soon will also benifit the right people and help them to keep us coming to your world if not ,not to many canadians will continue to feel as if were being taken for a ride

  • I love Cuba and have lost track of how many times I have been there sometimes in 6 month stretches. Having said that I am disgusted from my last visit at how tourists are being ripped off at all levels in Varadero. I am having second thoughts about whether I will return

  • I could not agree more. The communist dictartoorship destroyed the country.

  • Just back from 1week in Cuba, Havana – Trinidad and lots of small villages in between , shocking state of this country, run down by government to the lowest level. Soviet regime mixed with filthy state of daily life’s in Cairo. Nice Google posters with totally different life behind them. Wouldn’t go back for the costs you need to pay everywhere, food is horrible, only in the few fancy restaurants you can get normal meal… Such a good climate but country is a dump, literally. They need new revolution against their own governments idiotic regime.

  • Billy , thank you for that report. I was so grateful for Obama and opening up Cuba. As a NYC born Cuban, I have been shocked and disgusted at the thievery on all levels , with the Cuban “government” leading the way. Opening up 5 star resorts and giving 2 star service. Communism destroyed Cuba beyond repair. All Cubans now have a sense of nostalgia for the “corrupt” days before Castro, the days when Cuba had a working railroad, buses were from London and USA, and people could fly to Miami for $26 round trip….At one time in the 1950’s, the Cuban peso was on a par with the USD and even higher (1952 to 1955) . It is no wonder over 2,000,000 have fled and Cubans, a once elegant people are now largely bottom of the barrel. The disconnect due to politics, embargo and now internet , has made Cubans largely unrecognizable to me. I once felt pride for the Cuban nation, now I only feel despair and indifference. The damage is done. Let us not forget the UMAP CAMPS for homosexuals and intellectuals, who were targeted and sent to the work camps in the 60’s. The GLOBALIST lgbt movement has made its way into Cuba, much to the dismay of many Cubans, and most Cubans are not homophobic….now they are !! Communism is AIDS for the soul.Thanks.

  • John…..I am a NYC born Cuban and when Trump is reelected , people like you will continue to be irrelevant. And for Cubans reading this, Fidel is DEAD, Raul is a breathing corpse, no more excuses for failures and tortures that destroyed our homeland for 60 years. People like the one I am responding to (support Bolton ? Seriously ?) will no longer be relevant. TRUMP has come out against this vile scourge of Marxism that has taken root in USA. Though I understand it has long been in the making, from the playbook of Antonio Gramsci , Sabbateans and Frankists.

    John….Stop sucking deflating dollars and go til some land in Cuba. See how far it gets you. 60 years is enough. Time for Cubans to stand up on the island, I was there in 2017 , for the 15th and last time and commie complacency and degeneracy is the norm. And if that is what you want for America , I will be thinking of you the night TRUMP is reelected. And those “traiterous” Cuban Americans will be popping champagne bottles in NYC, NJ and MIAMI…..Nuff said.

  • Exactly. Cuban officials taking from rates more costly and scheming taxis are killing the golden goose.

  • I must agree with the above comments regarding some of the Russian tourists. I have never seen more ignorant travellers than those invading Cuba with renewed vigour this year. Varadero was crawling with loud-mouthed slobs boozing themselves into a stupor, shovelling food into their mouths as if the dining room table were a conveyor belt, treating their wives as second-class citizens and showing contempt for the kind-hearted Cuban employees. Cuba deserves better.

  • just came back from Cuba.. and wow.. one Canadian dollar is only worth 50 cents to the CUC. The CUC is only used for non Cubans….for tourist only.. seem to be very expensive. At all resorts now.. They said you must use up all CUC s that you have at the airport and is illegal to take home…
    No wonder Cuba is suffering.

  • Don nailed it! Exchange rate is horrible but the influx of rude Russians guzzling vodka starting at 9am and local Cubans filling their bags with food from the buffet has turned me off… too sad to watch.

  • Absolutely love visiting Cuba having been 20 times in 15 years always to the Holguin area now just waiting as many other thousands of people from the UK for an airline to take up the Thomas Cook route. We are here and waiting.

  • Public and government opinion favor renewal of the Obama relationship with Cuba. Only the extremists and electoral opportunists like what is happening now.

    The regulatory situation could change almost immediately because it is executive authority and all of the OFAC language exists from previous iterations. The Commerce Department could easily and quickly restore cruises.

    Implementation by tour operators, airlines and cruise companies can also move rapidly. They will want to be first out of the gate for commercial reasons.

    By the spring of 2021, we will be back to the not sufficient normal.

    Passage of legislation to end all travel restrictions will take a little longer and will be affected by priorities of a new administration.

    The President may have avoided conviction because of the Republican Senate cover-up, but he was impeached and the level of outrage will only increase. Bolton, et. al. will pound stakes into his coffin. Romney represents the soul and core of the Republican Party, not Trump.

  • GOOD – that’s what you get when uniformed goverment officials steal from tourist in your airports and when your government has laws that enables, supports and protects fraud and grand theft by their citizens on foreign investors….VIVA EMBARGO!!!

  • Love Cuba, but we need to be treated better by their government, so we can enjoy our time there.

  • At its fastest,assuming a Democrat becomes president , relations with Cuba would take at least two years to restore back to what they were under President Obama.

  • wait until the Canadians stop coming to cuba because of rude Russians and getting screwed by the cuc pegged to the US dollar

  • Wishful thinking on your behalf as it is becoming increasingly likely that DT will be re-elected !!

  • That’s to be expected.

  • If we have a new President in less than a year, US travel will quickly bounce back at least to Obama levels.

    If legislation is passed to totally end travel restrictions, even in the Trump Administration, cruises will return and beach resorts will be accessible for the first time.

    Current restrictions are a product of John Bolton’s neocon agenda against Cuba. Obviously Bolton is anathema now to the President.

    Bolton appointed Mauricio Claver-Carone as head of Western Hemisphere Affairs and he remains in place. His Miami exile lobbyist agenda is responsible for the destruction of cruises and people to people travel (“veiled tourism”) and the punishment of traitorous Cuban Americans by blocking commercial and as of March 10 charter flights to regional cities.

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