Cuban resorts stay afloat due to the patronage of Canadian tourists
By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Issue date: 12/9/08 Section: World
HAVANA – Cuba's vacation industry has remained as hot as the tropical
sun here, even as the world economic crisis sparks cancellations and
layoffs elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The communist country says it's booked solid through December and
expects a record 2.34 million visitors this year – largely because
global financial woes have so far been softer on Canada, its top source
Luck also played a role: While the island suffered three devastating
hurricanes, its key tourist sites were largely spared. And where
beachfront resorts did get hit, the tourist-hungry government has made
sure to repair hotels – in some cases even before damaged homes and
Tourism is Cuba's second-largest source of foreign income, behind nickel
So while other islands in the region are laying off hotel workers and
suspending construction of new property, Cuban resorts are gearing up
for a strong season.
"We've had a few cancellations, but overall our numbers are still
strong," said David Gregori of WowCuba, a travel agency in
Charlottetown, Canada, that specializes in bicycle trips and other Cuba
tours. "People still like to get away. They might try to save some money
while doing it, but they're still traveling."
The number of foreign visitors has swelled nearly 11 percent this year,
making up for 4 and 3 percent declines in 2006 and 2007, government
Officials offer no explanation for those slower years. But tour
operators blame the island's low returning-visitor rates: Some tourists
complain of poor service, crumbling infrastructure and lousy food,
indicative of a communist system where shortages are common and state
employees are unaccustomed to putting customer service first.
Still, the island is often cheaper than its subtropical neighbors,
because many foreigners buy all-inclusive packages offering dozens of
direct flights from Europe and Canada to airports all over Cuba, as well
deep discounts on hotels, food and booze.
Others are enticed by the prospect of seeing one of only five communist
countries left on the planet.