Tourism’s stumbling blocks

Judging by data from the first semester, in 2014 the Cuban tourist industry could once again not meet the goal of three million visitors.

Though the number of tourists and excursionists grew 3.9 percent in the first semester, it remained far from the plans, the Economy Ministry reported.

The tendency of tourism in Cuba during the first half of the year sparked off concern, but it did not catch anyone by surprise. The national media expressed worry in view of the contraction in the principal issuing markets, proof of the slowdown observed since early this year in one of the sectors that contributes the most hard currency for the country.

Tourist arrivals decreased by 1.4 percent in June in relation to the same period the previous year, according to the most recent report by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI). The close of the first six months registered 3.9 percent, a feeble increase compared to the start of 2014 and the country’s plans.

Since January, the growth in tourists has decreased month after month. While last year took off with a surprising 9.3 percent, the subsequent figure has gradually deflated to levels that distance the possibility of advancing in 2014 at the rate announced by the Tourism Ministry.

Experts like José Luis Rodríguez, former economy minister, observe that “tourism, which practically did not increase last year, set itself a very high goal for this year: to grow more than 10 percent in the number of visitors.”

It seems the planned increase has been dwindling, between the economic stumbling blocks of the tourist markets and the Cuban leisure industry’s own problems in the face of regional competition. The old dream of reaching three million visitors is threatening to slip away once again this year. The sector would need a spectacular reaction in a second semester, traditionally warmer in terms of climate and more lukewarm from the point of view of foreign visitors.

If the performance of the first six months continues, the reception of visitors would not be able to achieve the level proposed for this year by Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero when speaking to the MPs.

“At that rate it will be difficult to achieve the much sought-after number of three million visitors, a psychological barrier we have not been able to surpass and which at times seems unreachable,” commented the daily Juventud Rebelde.

After receiving last year 2,852,572 visitors according to the ONEI, in 2014 foreign tourist arrivals would have to grow around 5.2 percent to reach the three million.

Tourism’s difficulties are not new, the national press recognises. In the July parliament session, Economy and Planning Minister Adel Yzquierdo pointed to that sector as one of those farthest away from meeting the plan. That industry, said the second newspaper with the biggest circulation in Cuba, “has internal problems and even in the work of promotion in the foreign markets.”

The reception of visitors has been languishing since 2012 in the totals for the first semester.

Visitors from the principal issuing markets, including Canada, the traditional leader by country, dropped in June. Canadian tourists decreased by one percent in the sixth month as compared to the same period last year. Other countries that showed a decrease were Great Britain (72.9 percent), Mexico (94.5) and Spain (85.1).

In a general assessment of the semester, the Canadians fared the best; they grew 4.3 percent (736,845), 44.4 percent of the total amount of visits. They were followed by the Germans, with one of the most notorious advances (13.6%), but third place, Great Britain, registered a 15.3 contraction in the sending of tourists and excursionists.

In the performance by country, the emerging economies, like Russia and China, and from Latin America, though with irregular tendencies, are occupying an increasingly greater space.

One of the sectors in which the Cuban government has pinned its hopes and invested the most to sustain its economic development continues being distant from the reaction expected by the nation. (2014)

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