Photo by MJ Haru
The number of visitors to Cuba fell by 25.4% in 2020 despite the country experiencing positive arrivals numbers in January, February and March 2020. The figures, which reflect the serious impact of the pandemic and the closure of the country’s borders for much of last year, can be found on the website of ONEI, Cuba’s national statistics organisation.
The trend has continued into 2021 with arrivals numbers in January and February of this year showing a decline of 95.5% when compared to the same period last year. They show that only 35,600 international travellers arrived in the first two months of this year, or just 4.5% of the 792,507 foreign visitors recorded over the same period in 2020.
Speaking recently to China’s state media about Cuba’s future tourism outlook, Professor José Luis Perelló from the Tourism Faculty at the University of Havana, said that the industry’s recovery will not only depend on the control of the pandemic at a domestic level, but also on the success of the vaccination processes in Canada, Spain, Germany, the UK and France, Cuba’s principal visitor source markets. He added that airlift and travellers’ level of disposable income would be equally important to returning tourism to normality, post pandemic.
According to ONEI statistics, visitor arrivals from all of Cuba’s principal tourism markets fell in 2020. Canada, the island’s leading source market, which sent 1.1m visitors in 2019, saw arrivals fall by 25% last year to 0.4m, while Cubans living overseas, a category of arrivals that Cuba counts generically, fell from 0.6m to 0.2m in 2020.
An ONEI table indicates in descending order that overall arrivals last year were as follows:
Tourism accounted pre pandemic for about 10% of Cuba’s foreign exchange earnings with about 60% of international visitors spending at least some of their time in Havana. As Cuba Briefing has previously reported, Cuba’s tourism ministry and its tourism companies have been using the absence of visitors during the pandemic to upgrade hotel, beach, and other visitor related facilities.
Speaking last October (Cuba Briefing 19 October 2020) Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García, said that the tourism sector will continue to be one of the most important areas of economic activity. He told Cuban television viewers then, that once the pandemic was over, Cuba needed to stimulate national and international tourism to reach as quickly as possible the levels achieved before it struck.
In his remarks, he said that diversification would be important as demand globally was growing for ecotourism, cultural tourism and in other specific areas. His Ministry, Mintur, will be seeking to increase foreign investment in the sector, deepen tourism’s access to new technologies and in future ensure connectivity in all areas used by visitors including beaches, the Minister said. The industry’s relationship with universities is also to be deepened, he explained. Minister García indicated that in future, all vehicles used for tourism will be electric.
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