Sunday, September 28, 2008

Despite storms, Cuba expects tourism to grow

Despite storms, Cuba expects tourism to grow
The Associated Press
Published: September 27, 2008

HAVANA: Cuba expects tourism to increase 13 percent this year despite
destruction from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which damaged colonial and
coastal towns, and hit picturesque hideaways in the tobacco-growing west
even harder.

Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said Saturday that officials believe
foreign visitors will top 2.3 million in 2008, up nearly 200,000 from
last year.

The sector is "bursting with vitality despite the passage of these
hurricanes," he said during an event at the University of Havana. Cuba
had previously announced that tourism rose 15 percent in the first quarter.

Marrero said that dipped only slightly after Gustav smacked western Cuba
in late August. Ike hit eight days later, slamming into the island's
eastern tip and moving west over much of Cuba.

Marrero said hotels and other tourism infrastructure were damaged in the
provinces of Camaguey and Holguin and in tobacco-growing Pinar del Rio,
home to the limestone mountain-flanked town of Vinales. But the beaches
most popular with international visitors were largely spared.
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Foreign visitors to Cuba peaked at about 2.3 million in 2005 but slipped
to 2.1 million last year — dealing a financial blow to a nation that
relies on tourism for much of its hard-currency revenue. Tourism brought
in some US$2.2 billion last year.

Canada, Britain, Spain and Italy rank as top sources of visitors.
Washington's trade embargo prohibits American tourists from coming to Cuba.

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