Tourists talk with a Cuban woman in the Old Havana area in Havana, capital of Cuba, Sept. 7, 2018. (Xinhua/Joaquin Hernandez)
According to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, Cuba received around 86,000 foreign tourists in January, compared to 22,000 vacationers in the same period last year.
by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, March 7 (Xinhua) — Spanish tourist Miguel Suarez, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and below-the-knee shorts, enjoys a Cuban cigar before ordering at a restaurant in Old Havana.
The 52-year-old engineer, along with his wife and two teenage sons, traveled to the Caribbean nation for a week to escape the busy city life of Madrid, Spain.
“The people here are nice, the food is good and the island is beautiful,” he said. “It was what we needed to relax and forget about our daily problems.”
Mexican tourist Elena Cruz snaps photos of fishermen on the city’s seafront and taxi drivers of vintage American cars desperately waiting for passengers.
“It’s my first time in Cuba,” she said. “I’m going to the seaside resort 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 populated by foreign tourists look largely deserted, hotel complexes are operating at low capacity and most rental properties remain closed.
Still, Cuba received about 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 crafts seller on Obispo Street, the COVID-19 crisis has taken a hard hit on her personal income, as the current number of tourist arrivals is well below pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s not a good time for business. A few years ago I sold a large number of ashtrays, keychains, hats and wallets, but it’s very different now,” she said.
The Cuban government has forecast a 4 percent increase in the country’s GDP by the end of the year with the arrival of almost 2.5 million tourists.
According to official statistics, this Caribbean nation only welcomed around 500,000 international visitors in 2020, far fewer than the nearly 4.2 million in 2019 before the pandemic began in Cuba.
Yadelys Garriga, who works as a tour guide for San Cristobal Travel Agency in Havana, told Xinhua that guided tours of the Cuban capital are rare these days.
“A handful of tourists visiting the island are looking for sun and beach destinations,” she said. “A significant 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 peak tourist season, which lasts until April.
“It is crucial for this country to win back its key emissions markets, including Canada and European countries, and to strengthen collaborative work with airlines and tour operators worldwide,” he added. ■