Cuba Travel

Cuba hits two million tourist mark earliest date in history

Posted November 15, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Travel.

By WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press Writer

Cuba welcomed its 2 millionth tourist of 2008 on Friday with a salsa band, strong mojitos and word that the island expects to set a record this year for foreign visitors despite three hurricanes and a global economic crisis.

Authorities hung a red-and-white banner reading “welcome visitor” in five languages just outside the customs area as Air Canada Flight 370 from Toronto touched down at Havana Airport.

“Is this a nice way to start? I’ll say!” said Helen Lueke, a secretary in her 60s from Sherwood Park, Canada, who comes to Cuba about once a year — but has never been greeted at the airport with mojitos.

Cuba didn’t single out a visitor No. 2 million, rather symbolically marked the flight’s arrival along with similar celebrations at international airports in the eastern city of Santiago and in Varadero, the famous beach resort northeast of Havana.

Alexis Trujillo, first vice minister of tourism, said Cuba has surpassed 2 million annual foreign visitors every year since 2004.

But Nov. 14 is the earliest date the communist nation has ever reached the mark, he added, leading Cuba to predict it would pass its 2005 record of 2.3 million visitors.

Trujillo said tourism is up 10.7 percent compared to last year, despite Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma, which destroyed nearly half a million homes and did more than $10 billion in damage when they roared through the island in recent weeks.

Hotels, restaurants and other tourist sites were damaged in coastal areas in the provinces of Camaguey and Holguin, as well as in tobacco-growing Pinar del Rio. But the storms spared Cuba’s top tourist destinations: Havana’s crumbling but majestic, decades-old architecture, and Varadero, which Trujillo said would attract 1 million foreign visitors alone this year for the first time.

Washington’s trade embargo prohibits most Americans from coming to Cuba.

But Canada, Britain, Spain and Italy rank as the island’s top sources of visitors. Foreign tourists to Cuba topped 2.3 million in 2005 but fell in 2006 and slipped again to 2.1 million last year — dealing a financial blow to a nation that relies on tourism for much of its hard-currency revenue. The industry brought in $2.2 billion in 2007.

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Member Comments

On November 15, 2008, publisher wrote:

Too bad this cannot be independently verified by an independent accounting agency.

We have no idea what criteria the Cuban government uses to describe a tourist.

If anyone knows of any independent analysis of tourism in Cuba, please post here.

On November 16, 2008, manfredz wrote:

Don’t know bout the numbers themselves, but the large number of flights from various Canadian cities says a lot in itself…..
But one must keep in mind that the majority of tourists stay in resorts, rarely spending much money outside the resort so little flows to ordinary people; also noticing there seems to be an increase to lower end priced resorts.
Independant tourism, where tourists would pump the most into local economies exists in Cuba but is the rare exception, not the rule.
(For those who don’t know it, you can get one week all included packages starting at about $600.- end price taxes and fees incl out of Toronto, although the majority would stay in higher end resorts costing $1000 - $1500.- a week)

On November 16, 2008, Tanner wrote:

I know each tourist leaving the island has to pay a $25 departure fee. An official stamp is stuck on your boarding pass, and inspected before boarding the plane.

On November 16, 2008, publisher wrote:

I’ll be there are millions of Cubans who would gladly pay the $25 if they could leave Cuba.

On November 16, 2008, publisher wrote:

Is there a Canadian government or travel website that would give statistics for Canadians and/or Canadian flights to Cuba?

On November 16, 2008, manfredz wrote:

Afraid I dont know of any such site.

On February 02, 2009, Katy de Volpi wrote:

I’d like to know the year the first planeload of Canadian tourists arrived in Cuba?