After a 3-year slump cruise passengers return to Cuba holidays
For the first time ever after 3 years, Cuba has received a significant numbers of cruising tourists arriving to their shores as Spain's Happy Cruises ocean liner made Havana a pit stop destination.
Even when only 220 tourists got off the cruise ship 'Gemini' in Havana last Friday, for Cuban officials it signalled the end of a three-year slump in a key sector of the Cuba holidays market crippled by a US company's duty to comply with Washington's economic embargo.
"Cruise line operations were extremely limited by the US blockade, and it's been three years practically since the country's seen regular business," Lester Oliva, Cubatur travel agency president told AFP as he welcomed Spain's Happy Cruises ocean liner.
Oliva added that the cruise ship's arrival with 220 passengers from 11 countries, including 183 from Spain, signalled a significant improvent to the cruise industry in Cuba and a boost to the Cuba holidays market in general; since the Gemini alone will be bringing "800 tourists a week" until the end of the first quarter of 2011. By 2012, the head of state-run Cubatur revealed that 'Gemini" will be doing "regular business" with Cuba and bringing a steady amount of passengers to holidays in Cuba.
The news that Cuba is back in the cruise ship business was welcomed by all. "In Spain we were really eager to see cruise ships return to Cuba, because it's been four years since we've last taken a cruise to the island. It's wonderful to travel here again," said Manuela Rojo, who paid 1,200 euros for her trip to Cuba.
Tourism is Cuba's second largest source of foreign revenue after medical services and cruise tours were a major component until they fell 89 percent from 2005-2007, with visitors plummeting from 102,440 a year to a meager 11,000.
The chief cause of the slump was US Royal Caribbean's purchase of Spain's Pullmantur company and with it the Holiday Dream cruise ship, which alone brought in more than 15 million dollars a year in tourist revenues to Cuba. The first measure Royal Caribbean took was to suspend operations in Cuba," a cruise company executive said at the time. The economic embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba since 1962 includes a travel ban for all Americans to Cuba. Royal Caribbean was merely complying with the law when it struck Cuba from its list of ports. Oliva said Cuba over the past three years has only reported rather small cruise ship operations of one, two or three stops at most. After spending a week aboard the ship, these clients spend the next seven days on shore in Cuba, which has a very important impact on tourism.
Oliva went on to add taht Gemini will be joined next year by two other cruise ships, from Britain and Russia and that Cuba can perfectly manage a number of cruise ships, with three other port facilities in addition to Havana's, in central Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, in the southeast, and opposite a beach in the resort island: Isla de la Juventud.
Together, the facilities can handle up to 600 ships and 1.2 million tourists, which would bring in more than 125 million dollars a year, according to official estimates and were it not for the blockade, Mintur said 15 % of the 13 million Americans who visit the Caribbean would travel to Cuba.
Cuban authorities unveiled a new five-year plan on Tuesday that calls for cuts in social spending while attracting private capital and boosting tourism. 2010 AFP.
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