Posted on Wed, Apr. 30, 2008
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press Writer
Cuba announced Wednesday that its crucial tourism industry appears to be
recovering from a two-year slump, with a 15 percent increase in visitors
during the first quarter of the year.
The number of international visitors topped the 1 million mark on
Monday, 22 days faster than last year, state-controlled news media
reported. Officials credited well-attended conferences and trade fairs
for the increase, singling out an ongoing gathering dedicated to
cultural tourism that has attracted more than 1,000 visitors.
Maria Elena Lopez, a vice minister of tourism, reported a 15 percent
increase in foreign visitors this year compared with the first three
months of 2007, but she did not provide further data, according to the
Communist Party daily Granma.
The number of foreign tourists peaked at about 2.32 million in 2005, but
slipped to 2.15 last year, according to official statistics.
Officials said the decline of 70,000 visitors in 2007 cut revenues by
nearly US$14.5 million (euro9.3 million) below 2006 levels - a blow to a
nation that has turned to tourism to generate much of its hard currency
Washington's nearly 50-year-old trade embargo prohibits American
tourists from coming to Cuba. Canada, Britain, Spain and Italy rank as
top sources of visitors to the island.
Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as president in February and
promptly dropped bans that had kept ordinary Cubans from staying at
luxury hotels and renting cars, which might help bolster tourism during
off months when fewer foreign visitors come