HAVANA – The Cuban tourism season got off to a rough start in 2010, with arrivals down 4.9 percent in January from the same month of last year, according to a government report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The report, due to be released later this week, said arrivals were 254,845 in the first month of this year, compared with 268,115 in January 2009. It gave no further details.
Tourism and related businesses are an important source of income for the cash-strapped, communist-run Caribbean island, totaling more than $2 billion last year, or about 20 percent of Cuba’s foreign exchange income.
Foreign sources in the tourism industry blamed the January decline on a pricing spat with a major Canadian tour operator that reduced bookings from Canada, economic hard times in Europe and competition from lower-priced packages in the Dominican Republic and the Mexican resort of Cancun.
Slightly more than 2.4 million tourists visited Cuba last year, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2008. Of those, the biggest number — 914,884 — were Canadians.
The foreign manager of a Cuban hotel said tourist arrivals were down again in February and prospects for March were not encouraging because the response by tourism officials to January’s decline was too slow in coming.
“They are running around lowering their prices now but it’s too late through March,” he said.
Also, other countries expecting fewer arrivals from Europe and the United States due to the global recession are trying to lure Canadian tourists.
“They have waged a price war for the Canadian market,” the hotel manager said.
The U.S. market is largely off-limits to Cuba because the 48-year-long U.S. trade embargo against the island prohibits most Americans from traveling there.