October 09, 2012

Tourist arrivals to Cuba increase, despite eurozone troubles

Posted by Armando H. Portela - No Comments
Filed under: Travel

Exactly 2,021,649 foreigners landed on Cuban soil during the first eight months of 2012 — a 5.2% rise over the same period in 2011 — despite the savage European financial crisis which has made a Caribbean vacation impossible for thousands of Spaniards, Italians, Greeks and others.

That’s largely thanks to Canada, which has sent more than 800,000 of its citizens to Cuba so far this year. In fact, since 2007, arrivals from Canada have been climbing by 10.3% annually. At that rate, more than two million Canadians will be visiting the Caribbean’s largest island every year by 2018.

In second place was the 27-member European Union. EU nations sent a combined 425,000 vacationers to Cuba between January and August 2012 — a 5% drop from the year-ago period.

Worldwide, the top sources of tourism to Cuba, said the government’s Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (ONE), are Canada, Great Britain, Italy, France, Argentina, Germany, Russia, Spain and Mexico — with fewer numbers coming from the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria.

No one knows for sure how many Cuban-Americans visit the island, because ONE does not mention figures or separate this group by origin. Rather, it lumps exiles in the “other” category, which shows 504,407 visitors in the first eight months of 2012, up 4.9% from the 480,985 visitors in the year-ago period.

Yet a big chunk of these “others” — a category that comprises 25% of all visitors — are believed to be Cuban-Americans, as well as U.S. citizens not of Cuban origin who are either traveling illegally to the island — or legally as participants in people-to-people exchanges, humanitarian missions and the like.

Therefore, despite all the travel restrictions imposed by Washington’s 50-year-old embargo against Havana, Americans may very well be the most common foreigners in Cuba after Canadians.

It’s no surprise that tourist arrivals closely track the magnitude of problems back home. While British, French and German visitors keep coming (and those three countries enjoy the strongest economies in Western Europe), tourist arrivals from Spain and Italy have dropped off dramatically. In Spain’s case, arrivals in the first eight months of 2012 tumbled by a whopping 23%.

Spain now accounts for only 2.8% of all visitors to the island — a figure that hardly corresponds to the stereotype of the typical foreign tourist in Cuba: a middle-aged Spaniard male traveling alone or in a group.

Similarly, arrivals from Italy have fallen 5% this year. But the Italians, unlike their Spanish counterparts, have been traveling to Cuba in lesser numbers since 2005 and today represent only 3.8% of all tourists coming to Cuba. Greece, Ireland and Portugal — three other EU members whose economies are in huge trouble — were never big sources of tourism to Cuba, and ONE doesn’t break out data from those three countries.

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