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Cuba sees boost in tourism  Feb 01, 2009

Tourists are flocking to Cuba despite hurricanes, global recession and the retirement of Fidel Castro.

The Caribbean republic's ailing Marxist leader handed over power to his brother nearly two-and-a-half years ago, leading to a downturn in the island's growing tourist industry.

The trade, a major source of hard currency for Cuba, peaked in 2005 with the arrival of 2.3 million visitors, but dropped to 2.1 million in 2007.

But last year Cuba recovered and received more tourists than in any season since it opened up to foreign investment and tourism in the mid-1990s: 247,386 visitors.

Industry watchers have reported no cancellations of tours booked for the December-March peak season and believe an increase in Canadian visitors will offset any reduction in Europeans put off by rising air fares and other economic worries.

All of this is good news for a country still recovering from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck within ten days of each other, causing extensive damage.

Cuba's ministry of tourism has actively sought new business, offering tour operators better deals than rival Mexican and Dominican destinations, and last year the country cut the price of aviation fuel.

American tourists are barred by US law from visiting Cuba, but many hope that with a new administration in Washington, restrictions on US nationals visiting the island may be relaxed soon.

Cuba sees boost in tourism
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