Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cuba takes steps to spruce up tourism appeal

Cuba takes steps to spruce up tourism appeal
Reuters | Thursday, 28 June 2007

Cuba has adopted a series of measures to improve the tourism industry's
competitive position in the Caribbean and reverse a two-year slide in
visitors, state-media has reported.

"Today the ministry is working on new investments and repairing hotels
of historic interest in the cities," Minister Manuel Marrero
toldparliament deputies on Tuesday, the Communist Party newspaper Granma

"Another main objective ... is to add new services and make our offer
more competitive in general," he said.

Landing fees were recently reduced 20 per cent at airports and jet fuel
set at market prices to bring the communist-run island in line with
other Caribbean destinations.

To reduce theft, local carrier Cubana Airlines is plastic wrapping all
luggage, with the service optional for other airlines.

"Better late than never. We suggested the measures two years ago," one
foreign tour operator said of the changes.

"But package and hotel rates remain 20 percent less in the Dominican
Republic, and in Cancun they are similar but the service is far
superior," he said. Like others interviewed, he asked not to be identified.

Tourism grew at a lofty 20 percent rate in the 1990s, becoming the
country's most important foreign exchange earner as the government
restructured the economy to cope with the demise of benefactor the
Soviet Union.

But services and nickel exports brought in more revenues than tourism's
$US2.3 billion in 2006, and earn a much larger profit, Cuban economists

Visitors fell to 2.2 million last year from 2.3 million in 2005. It was
the first drop since the September 11 attacks on the United States hurt
the travel industry worldwide in 2002.

The number of tourists dropped 7 per cent in January and 13 per cent in
February compared with the same period in 2006, the Tourism Ministry
reported, before ending publication of monthly figures for the first
time in years.

Minister Marrero blamed the "complicated international scene" for his
sector's woes, Granma said, in particular "high oil prices, wars,
terrorism and climate change."

Cuban and foreign hotel managers said US travel restrictions and the
embargo had also hurt, but they insisted the government could do far
more to compensate.

"It still takes months to purchase a compressor for an air conditioner
and there has been little money spent in recent years to maintain and
improve service," one foreign hotel manager said.

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