Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cae el turismo a Cuba
Business - Cuba's tourism trade cooling off
Cuba's tourism trade cooling off

Visitors from Spain down 45 % after firm sold to Americans
Mar 15, 2007 04:30 AM Marc Frank Reuters news agency
HAVANA–Comparatively high prices, an unusually warm winter in Europe and the sale of a Spanish tour company to a U.S. competitor are hurting Cuba's tourist trade this year after a 3.6 per cent decline in 2006, travel industry sources said yesterday.
The communist country's economy relies heavily on tourism for foreign-currency earnings that totalled $2.4 billion (U.S.) in 2006.
The number of tourists arriving in Cuba dropped 7 per cent in January and 13 per cent in February, compared with the period last year, according to preliminary official figures.
January through April are the high season in Cuba, so it will be difficult to meet this year's goal of 8 per cent growth, hotel executives said.
Visitors fell to 2.2 million last year from 2.3 million in 2005, the Cuban government said.
It was the first drop since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States hurt the travel industry worldwide in 2002.
The number of visitors from Canada, Cuba's largest source of tourists, dipped 2 per cent in the first two months of this year, figures showed.
But it was European tourism that dropped the most, with declines of 10 per cent to 20 per cent in the number of visitors from Italy, France and Germany, and a 45 per cent decline from Spain.
Cuban officials said the drop in Spanish tourists was due to the sale of tour operator Iberojet and cruise operator Pullmantur to American companies that closed their business with Cuba to comply with U.S. sanctions.
"Europe is having a relatively warm winter, so there are less people getting away from the cold," added Oscar Gonzalez, Cuba's deputy minister of tourism.
Gonzalez said high fuel costs had reduced long-distance travel in some European countries.
He added that Cuba was lowering its prices with European tour operators to compete with cheaper resorts elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Tour operators complain Cuba lost its competitive edge when it revalued its currency by 8 per cent in 2005.
Cuba expanded its hotel capacity to 44,000 rooms last year, about half administered by foreign companies such as Spanish chain Sol Melia, France's Accor and Jamaica's Super Clubs.
American tourists are barred by U.S. law from visiting the Caribbean island nation.

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