By Marc Frank | Reuters
Havana - Tourism, Cuba’s main foreign exchange earner, has recovered from a post-September 11 decline that slowed the Caribbean island’s efforts to pull out of economic crisis, the Tourism Ministry announced.
As of Sunday, a million tourists had visited the Cuba this year, a 16 percent increase compared with the same period in 2002, the ministry said.
“Last year arrivals reached one million on July 29, while in 2001, the best year to date for the industry, the number was achieved on June 30,” the official business weekly, Opciones, said.
Foreign companies, such as France’s Accor and Spain’s Sol Melia, manage the majority of five-star and four-star hotels in Cuba.
“Summer bookings from Britain and other European destinations are above expectations,” Eric Peyre, Cuban sales director for the French hotel company Accor, recently told Reuters.
Peyre said Cuba had not felt the drop in US tourists that other Caribbean islands were experiencing, as Washington’s economic embargo bars most of its citizens from visiting.
Cuba turned to tourism after the collapse of European Communism plunged its socialist economy into crisis.
“The tourism industry accounted for four percent of foreign exchange earnings in 1990 and more than 40 percent in 2001,” Opciones reported.
“The number of hotel rooms tripled during the same period from 12 900 to 40 000,” the weekly added.
In addition, 68 percent of all industry supplies are produced or assembled within the country, revitalizing sectors such as construction materials, light industry and food processing.
The September 11 attacks on the United States and a slowing world economy put a damper on the industry and the island’s recovery.
The government said arrivals were 1 686 162 in 2002, a five percent decline from the 1 774 541 reported in 2001.
Revenues from tourism and related activities were $1,769-billion last year, compared with $1,840-billion in 2001 and $1,948-billion in 2000.
Cuba’s recovery faltered beginning in 2001 with the tourism slowdown, registering just 1.1 percent growth last year and three percent in 2001, compared with more than six percent during the 1999-2000 period.