Cuba welcomes visitor No. 2 million

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Cuba on Oct. 18 welcomed visitor No. 2 million this year, 12 days earlier than in 2009, the tourism ministry announced.

A group of 197 tourists from Toronto was celebrated at the Tryp Club Cayo Coco for the occasion, according to Prensa Latina.

In September, according to the most recent official statistics, the number of visitors was up 12.3 percent, making for a 2.5 percent rise year-to-date. In August, the number of visitors rose 5.4 percent. Reversing recent drops, the number of arrivals from leading source markets, Canada, United Kingdom and Germany, was up 10 percent during August.

The number of tourists is on track to grow 3 percent this year, according to the tourism ministry, making Cuba one of the most dynamic markets in the hemisphere.

Canada continues to be Cuba’s main source market, followed by Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Mexico, Argentina and Russia.

The ministry didn’t provide any recent figures for tourism revenues. Hotel occupancy plummeted to 51 percent during the first half of the year, according to official Cuban statistics, down from 55.6 percent in the same period last year. At the same time, revenues were up 3.9 percent.

However, pricing for package tours seems to be under pressure. According to the most recent column by travel expert Arthur Frommer in the Toronto Star, Cuban beach resorts are now ranking among “bargain destinations” from Toronto. 

“One can only conclude that the Cuban resorts are suffering badly from low occupancies in October and November, and thus are willing to slash their rates,” Frommer wrote.

Arguing that the number of visitors to the island has continued to rise slightly over the past two crisis years, Cuban officials have urged tour operators in Canada and Mexico to maintain prices. While tourism revenues in 2009 dropped more than 10 percent, the number of visitors set a new record. Nevertheless, the arguments apparently have fallen on deaf ears recently.

“Cuba is cheaper than ever for departures in October and November, as tour operators — especially SunWing — have cut prices to hitherto unheard-of levels,” Frommer wrote. “While weeklong air-and-land packages to some all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and elsewhere have risen to the $800s and $900s, similar vacations in Cuban resorts have plunged to the $500s and below.”

According to Frommer, economy hotels in Cuba go at $515 for an all-inclusive weeklong stay, including airfare. “While some of the hotel properties it uses are not the leading options on Varadero Beach and elsewhere, … they are available for stunning rates that dip as low as $515 for all-inclusive hotels and to $415 (including air and taxes) for one-week stays without meals.”

Standard hotels, via Air Canada, now are as low as $609, according to Frommer.


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