Cuban crunch

TOURISM: NUM­BERS DOWN DUE TO AMER­ICA’S TIGHT­EN­ING OF SANC­TIONS

The Citizen (KZN) - - Travel - Trinidad

In the colo­nial Cuban city of Trinidad, hand­i­crafts shop owner Lour­des Mi­lan says she has al­ready slashed prices due to the drop in US vis­i­tors fol­low­ing Washington’s tight­en­ing of sanc­tions and she’s wor­ried the sit­u­a­tion will worsen this year.

Trinidad, a five-hour drive east of Ha­vana, was one of the top des­ti­na­tions for the Amer­i­cans that poured into Cuba af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion eased decades-old re­stric­tions on travel to the is­land dur­ing a short-lived 2014-2016 de­tente.

But the num­ber of US vis­i­tors dropped by 21.9% last year af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion tight­ened those re­stric­tions again and banned the re­cently re-in­stated cruises, ac­cord­ing to data pub­lished this month in Cuban state mag­a­zine Ex­ce­len­cias.

The US vis­i­tors num­ber will likely drop again this year due to new US curbs on flights to Cuba that have come into ef­fect since De­cem­ber.

“We are re­duc­ing prices to the min­i­mum be­cause there is very lit­tle tourism,” said Mi­lan, who had not sold a sin­gle prod­uct by mid­day de­spite Jan­uary be­ing high sea­son for tourism in Cuba.

The to­tal num­ber of vis­i­tors to the is­land dropped by 9.6% last year to 4.275 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to

Ex­ce­len­cias.

Slight rises in ar­rivals of Cubans liv­ing abroad and Cana­di­ans were un­able to com­pen­sate for the dou­ble-digit de­cline in US vis­i­tors – mostly via cruise ships – and a smaller drop in Euro­pean tourists.

Paolo Spadoni, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of so­cial sci­ences at Au­gusta Univer­sity in the state of Ge­or­gia, said the full im­pact of the US ban on cruises would be felt even more this year, as it was im­ple­mented last June.

More­over, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion barred US air­lines from fly­ing to all des­ti­na­tions in Cuba be­sides Ha­vana in De­cem­ber and an­nounced this month it would curb public char­ter flights too.

“Now, all itin­er­ar­ies have to start in Ha­vana, which means they cost more,” Lil­iana Guerra, com­mer­cial vice di­rec­tor at Cien­fue­gos’ Ho­tel Jagua, run by the Span­ish ho­tel chain Melia, said in front of a swim­ming pool de­void of guests.

“We are see­ing a de­crease in the ar­rival of Cubans from abroad who used these air­ports nearby to visit their fam­i­lies and then would stay in our ho­tel as a kind of fam­ily tourism.”

The tourism min­istry’s del­e­gate in Cien­fue­gos, Jose Gon­za­lez, said US sanc­tions on oil ship­ments to Cuba were also hav­ing a knock-on ef­fect. Some boat op­er­a­tors, for ex­am­ple, have had to shut spo­rad­i­cally due to lack of fuel.

Pic­ture: EPA-EFE Pic­ture: Reuters Pic­ture: Reuters

TOO QUIET. A horse and car­riage rid­ing through the streets in Trinidad, Sancti Spir­i­tus, Cuba. BET­TER DAYS. Tourists re­lax at An­con beach in Trinidad, Cuba. LONELY. A tourist makes a selfie at An­con beach in Trinidad, Cuba .

Pic­ture: EPA-EFE

DE­SERTED. View of an empty beach in Gua­jim­ico, Cien­fue­gos, Cuba.

Pic­ture: EPA/EFE

STREET BEAT. Mu­si­cians at Ha­cienda Guachi­nango in Cuba.

Pic­ture: EPA/EFE

SUN-SOAKED. Tourists sun­bathe at a beach in Trinidad, Sancti Spir­i­tus, Cuba.

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