Tourists chat with a Cuban woman in the Old Havana district of Havana, capital of Cuba, Sept. 7, 2018. (Xinhua/Joaquin Hernandez)
Cuba welcomed some 86,000 foreign tourists in January, compared to 22,000 vacationers in the same period last year, according to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.
by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, March 7 (Xinhua) — Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and below-the-knee shorts, Spanish tourist Miguel Suarez enjoys a Cuban cigar before ordering at a restaurant in Havana’s Old Quarter.
The 52-year-old engineer, along with his wife and two teenage sons, traveled to the Caribbean nation for a week, fleeing the hectic city life of Madrid, Spain.
“The people here are nice, the food is good and the island is beautiful,” he said. “It’s what we needed to relax and forget about our daily problems.”
Mexican tourist Elena Cruz snaps photos of fishermen along the city’s waterfront and American classic car taxi drivers desperately waiting for passengers.
“It’s the first time I’ve been to Cuba,” she said. “I’m going to the resort town of Varadero in the next few days. I don’t want to leave the country without dancing salsa.”
Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, bars and cafeterias once crowded with foreign tourists appear largely devoid of people, hotel facilities are operating at low capacity and most rental houses remain closed.
Still, Cuba welcomed some 86,000 foreign tourists in January, compared to 22,000 vacationers in the same period last year, according to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.
For Amelia Perez, a handicraft vendor on Obispo Street, the COVID-19 crisis has dealt a severe blow to her personal income, as the current number of tourist arrivals is far below pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s not a good time for business. A few years ago I was selling a lot of ashtrays, keychains, hats and wallets, but now it’s quite different,” he said. she declared.
The Cuban government has forecast a 4% increase in the country’s GDP for the end of the year with the arrival of nearly 2.5 million tourists.
According to official statistics, the Caribbean nation only received some 500,000 international visitors in 2020, far fewer than the nearly 4.2 million in 2019 before the pandemic hit Cuba.
Yadelys Garriga, who works as a tour guide for Havana’s San Cristobal travel agency, told Xinhua that guided tours of the Cuban capital are rare these days.
“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 areas 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 island’s high tourist season, which runs until April.
“For this country, it is vital to recover its main source markets, including Canada and European countries, as well as to strengthen joint work with global airlines and tour operators,” he added. ■