Cuba Aims to Become Tourist Magnet

Florida Trend: On their first day of vacation at Cuba’s top beach resort, Canadian couple Jim and Tammy Bosch enjoyed a midmorning cocktail in the Club Hemingway lobby bar of the Marina Palace hotel.

“It was minus 30 (degrees Celsius) when we left Canada,” said Jim Bosch, 49, a maintenance worker on the Montana border.

Canadian tourists are flocking to Cuba in ever greater numbers, making tourism a bright spot in the island’s otherwise bleak economy. Hit by three hurricanes, rising prices for food imports and a drastic fall in the price of nickel, its top export, Cuba’s economy ended one of its toughest years since the fall of the Soviet Union almost two decades ago.

“Cuba is in a very, very dire economic situation right now,” said Antonio Zamora, a prominent Cuban-American lawyer in Miami who visits Cuba frequently. “They need some sort of boost, and tourism is one place where it’s going to come from.”

Cuba saw record tourism in 2008 with 2.35-million visitors, generating more than $2.7-billion in revenue, a 13.5 percent increase over the previous year.

The tourism boom is all the more surprising given the impact of the global economic crisis on travel to other Caribbean destinations. That can be partly attributed to the island’s relatively cheap, all-inclusive packages — as low as $550 a week, airfare included.

The Bosches, part of a 36-strong wedding party, paid $1,078 each for their all-inclusive vacation at the five-star Marina Palace. The financial crisis has not hit as hard in Canada, which is easily Cuba’s best client, sending 800,000 visitors last year.

Cuba recently announced major joint ventures with foreign companies in the tourism sector: 30 new hotels and a total of 10,000 new rooms, a 20 percent increase.

A 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo bars Americans from vacationing in Cuba, except for Cuban-Americans visiting family. American visitors numbered 40,500 in 2007.

That could double after President Obama fulfills a campaign promise to lift restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans, who are allowed one visit every three years. Loosening of regulations limiting licensed travel to Cuba for academics and cultural exchanges is also anticipated.

Cuban officials say they aren’t planning on it.

“Our philosophy is not to be surprised if it happens, but not to wait for it to happen in order to continue constructing new hotels,” said Miguel Figueras, a senior Tourism Ministry adviser.

Tourism officials hope to entice Americans back to the island’s annual Billfishing Tournament, named after Ernest Hemingway. The 59-year-old event, held in June, was popular with U.S. competitors until the Bush administration restricted travel.

www.cubaluxuryrent.com

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About Particular Cuba
Particular Cuba organizes travel to Cuba. Hotel booking, car rental, package tours, excursions, flights to Cuba.

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