Tourism is confirming that it is the sector of hope, in a year of hurdles and threats to the general growth of the Cuban economy. The reception of visitors is climbing month by month in a sustained way, with investments to expand the accommodations capacity and the resumption of regular flights from the United States.
Almost 2.5 million foreigners visited Cuba until the close of July, an increase of 11.8 per cent compared to a similar period last year, according to recent reports from the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI).
Up to the seventh month of the year 2,449,272 visitors had arrived in the destination. Just in July, 302,376 tourists arrived, an unusual amount for the summer and higher by 13 per cent to the same month in 2015. Barely two years ago, only during the so-called peak season, from December to March, there were more than 300,000 tourist arrivals.
The biggest increase was registered by visitors from the United States. Despite the fact that they continue not being authorised by their government to practice tourism in Cuba, the number of travellers from that country increased by 43.8 per cent in July, after having grown 61.2 per cent in June. They rank in third place, after Canada and the Cuban community abroad.
There’s also a strong reaction from Europe. The arrival of Germans increased 69.2 per cent and 52.5 per cent in June and July, respectively. The tendency is also significant from the United Kingdom, Spain and France.
The Tourism Ministry is confident that this year the island will receive 3.8 million visitors, a new record after the 3.5 million in 2015. But if the current growth rate continues, the year could close with 3.9 million visitors.
The resumption of commercial flights between the United States and Cuba lends weight to the optimism. The JetBlue airline inaugurated direct regular flights at the close of August, with a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Santa Clara, in Cuba’s central region. From August 31 to October 29 the JetBlue flights will have a frequency of three times a week, and starting October 30 they will have a daily frequency.
Last July the U.S. Department of the Treasury authorised 110 daily flights between both countries by six U.S. commercial airlines. One of them, American Airlines, announced the replacement of its charter routes with regular flights starting September.
“The competition for the Havana routes is one of the most intense I’ve ever seen,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx when he arrived in Cuba on August 31 with the JetBlue inaugural flight. “I think that speaks of a great interest by the U.S. people and also speaks of the commercial interest that exists in the United States,” he indicated.
Cuban Deputy Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodríguez said that “the resumption of direct regular flights is a positive step and a contribution to the process of improving relations between the two countries.”
Meanwhile, the Old Continent’s competition is also expanding its air connections with Cuba. Condor, Air Berlin and Eurowings have increased their weekly flights between European and Cuban cities.
The stage is set for tourism to continue the accelerated growth of the last two years and for it to confirm itself as the most dynamic sector of the Cuban economy and the second source of hard currency after professional services.
In 2015 it registered incomes of more than 1.94 billion dollars, an increase of 10.7 per cent, according to ONEI. (2016)
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