Tourism from Spain, one of Cuba's main source markets, is stagnating or
declining this year, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told Spanish travel
agents during the opening of a conference in Santiago de Cuba.
He said he expected Spanish tourism to rise again "sooner or later." The
number of Spanish visitors peaked in 2005, at 194,000.
The current stagnation follows a financial crisis and recession that hit
Spain harder than other European nations, and U.S. takeovers of two key
Spanish tourism companies, and the bankruptcy of another. The purchase
of Orizonia Corporación — one of the biggest foreign tourism providers
in Cuba and owner of the Iberojet tour operator and Iberworld charter
airline — by Washington-based private equity firm Carlyle Group took the
company out of the picture in 2006, costing Cuba some 46,000 Spanish
visitors per year. The takeover of Spain's Pullmantur Cruises by
Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises, also in 2006, caused a
22,000-passenger drop in Cuban cruise tourism. Finally, the ceasing of
operations by Air Comet and the bankruptcy of its owner, Madrid-based
Grupo Marsans, in December last year caused another 20,000-visitor drop
New, smaller Spanish players, such as Gemini Cruises, have picked up the
ball, Marrero said.