By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
British tourists seeking Caribbean sun and beach have spurred the recovery of Cuba’s tourism trade, which grew 13.6 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Despite world security concerns and the SARS scare, British tourists have flocked to communist-run Cuba in growing numbers, and charter companies are increasing weekly flights from eight to 12 a week.
Rebeca Jara, sales promotion director at Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism, said arrivals in the first three months of 2004 were up 13.6 percent over last year’s first quarter.
“We are on track to meet our target for this year of 2 million tourists,” she told reporters.
Jara said British tourism grew 37 percent in the first quarter to 32,616 visitors, and became the fastest growing European market for Cuba in March, though still behind Canada Italy, Germany, France and Spain in overall numbers.
Tourism is Cuba’s biggest hard-currency earner, generating $2.1 billion in earnings last year, when 1.9 million people visited the island. The number of Germans visiting Cuba has fallen off, Jara said.
British tourism will be the highlight of Cuba’s annual tourism convention, attended by hundreds of tour operators and travel agents next week at Cuba’s prime resort of Varadero.
British charter operators Monarch and Britannia are adding new weekly flights to Cuba this year, Jara said, and the first charter flight from Ireland operated by SunAir will arrive in Varadero on Wednesday, she said.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. announced in March that it will start flights to Cuba next year as part of its expansion plans as tourism worldwide recovers from the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The war in Iraq and the deadly SARS virus also hurt demand for air travel.
Tour operators said security concerns boosted tourism to the calmer Caribbean this year, benefiting Cuba, which got the overspill from overbooked hotels in Cancun and the Dominican Republic.
Hotel managers in Havana said the stronger euro, however, had hurt Cuban competition with Mexican and Dominican resorts because Cuba prices its holiday packages for European tourists in euros instead of dollars.