Survey predicts record year for U.S. remittances and travel to Cuba

CUBA STANDARD — Remittances to Cuba reached a record $2.77 billion in 2013, 6.57 percent more than the previous year, a Miami-based consulting firm concludes, extrapolating from a recent survey of several hundred residents in South Florida.

According to the survey by The Havana Consulting Group, remittances may break another record in 2014.

“In 2014, the $3 billion barrier for cash remittances could be broken for the first time,” the company said in a press release about the survey. “Everything depends on the next liberating measures of the Cuban government.”

The developing world is expected to receive $414 billion in migrant remittances in 2013, an increase of 6.3 percent over the previous year, according to the World Bank. However, if Cuba remittances are growing as fast as the survey suggests, it would go against the trend in Latin America and the Caribbean, which continue to be affected by the spotty recovery of the U.S. economy.

A spokesman for Englewood, Co.-based Western Union, which handles the bulk of U.S.-Cuba remittances, declined to comment on the company’s performance and remittances to Cuba, before 2o13 earnings are released.

Between 1.062 million and 1.181 million Cubans who live in the United States send money to the island, the Havana Consulting Group survey suggests. Of the 822 interviewees contacted at supermarkets in South Florida and Miami International Airport, 62.8 percent said they send remittances to Cuba.

Surprisingly, younger people are more likely to send money; 93.8 percent of those surveyed were between ages 20 and 49. In contrast, the majority of recipients on the island are older than 50, most of them women.

“In other words, currently on the island women have a bigger role in the management of financial resources at home than men,” the study says. “She is the one who determines, generally, how resources are used, and how they are spent or invested.”

The survey detected “profound differences in buying power among Cubans according to regions.” The lion’s share of the remittances — 41.7 percent — is going to Havana. When the provinces are grouped in three regions — west, center and east, the differences are stark. The West receives 56.8 percent of all remittances, the central region 29.2 percent, and the East only 14 percent.

“The numbers confirm that the Eastern region is the poorest. Its low hard-currency buying power make the Eastern population the most economically and socially vulnerable of the nation.”

The survey also found that 82.13 percent of those sending remittances are white, while 12.05 percent described themselves as mixed-race, and only 5.82 percent as black.

The vast majority of recipients, 99.2 percent, use remittances to buy food. However, 45 percent also use the hard currency to pay for telecommunications, particularly cell phones. A small part of remittances go to investments in private businesses. And some also goes to paying for hotel stays in beach resorts that had previously been off-limits for Cubans.

Meanwhile, the number of U.S. travelers to Cuba likely reached a historical high of 600,000 in 2013, Havana Consulting Group suggests. In 2012, according to the consulting firm, 574,000 U.S. citizens and residents traveled to Cuba. As of mid-December 2013, 569,000 U.S. passengers had traveled to Cuba.

According to the survey, 67.4 percent of those interviewed travel to the island. Of those, 87 percent travel once a year; 6.2 percent travel at least once every quarter, suggesting a substantial number who travel on business. The median stay in Cuba is between five and seven days.

Of the travelers, more than one-third — 36.3 percent — visit tourist resorts; 54.9 percent of the beach visitors go to Varadero. More than 80 percent of the beach visitors said they stay in hotels. As to transportation, one-third rent cars, and 17.87 percent hire government-owned taxis.

The study estimates that Cuban Americans visiting the island spend between $660 million and $660 million annually there.

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