Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cubans call for cheaper local holidays

Cubans call for cheaper local holidays
Havana : Cuba | Jul 21, 2011
By adella adella

Cuba's fine-sand, turquoise-water beaches are packed with tourists at
the start of the summer season.

Unlike other years, however, Cuban holidaymakers appear to compete with
foreigners for places in hotels and restaurants in Cuban resort towns.

In 2008, the government of Cuban President Raul Castro opened up to
locals the island's tourist areas, which were previously reserved for
foreigners with their dollars and euros. Domestic tourism has grown
greatly since then.

"I will spend the weekend with my wife at a hotel in Miramar, and three
or four days next week in Varadero," a Cuban professional told the
German Press Agency dpa.

That plan would have been unthinkable for a Cuban until a couple of
years ago.

And yet even if tourist attractions have ceased to be taboo for the
island's residents, they are not really accessible to everyone. The
cheapest weekend packages cost twice as much as the average Cuban earns
in a month.

They are more affordable, however, for thousands of Cubans who are now
living abroad and return to visit their relatives, and for Cubans who
have opened small private businesses on the island.

Although there are no official figures, financial analyst Ariel Terrero
told Cuban television that residents and migrants have become the
second-largest group of tourists in Cuba, behind Canada. More than
945,000 Canadians visited Cuba in 2010, of a total of 2.5 million tourists.

The expert believes that the change in Cuban policy and the decision by
the administration of US President Barack Obama to ease travel
restrictions for migrants both contributed to make this possible.

An estimated 300,000 Cuban migrants visited the island during 2010, a
figure which according to Cuban authorities could rise to 400,000 this year.

Tourism is one of Cuba's main sources of foreign currency, along with
remittances from expatriates, and it is one of the pillars in government
plans to get over the current crisis and boost the country's troubled

The tourist industry allowed Cuba to obtain more than 2.2 billion
dollars and provide jobs for 110,000 people last year.

According to Terrero, it is likely that the volume of tourists will be
"significantly" greater this year than in 2010, not just because of an
increase in foreigners but also due to a rise in the number of Cuban
residents and expatriates using the island's tourist facilities.

The authorities note that the increase was above 11 per cent in the
first five months of the year. In Varadero, Cuba's main tourist resort
city, some 140 kilometres east of Havana, the rise in the first half of
the year stood at 12 per cent.

Cuba currently has a total of 52,000 rooms in 334 hotels - of which 62
per cent are 4- and 5-star facilities, according to the Cuban Tourism

The island's authorities want to promote domestic tourism to compensate
for the loss of European visitors due to the ongoing economic and
financial crisis across the Atlantic.

Last year, behind Canada, Cuba had 174,000 tourists from Britain,
112,000 from Italy, 104,000 from Spain, 93,000 from Germany and 80,000
from France.

Terrero said that "many Cubans are not aware of the options they have to
enjoy tourism" and he called upon the island's authorities to promote
domestic tourism, adjusting prices among other things.

However, the country's hopes could be frustrated if amendments promoted
by Cuban-American Republican legislator Mario Diaz-Balart to restrict
travel to Cuba are successful in the US Congress.

On this issue, the Cuban government has found allies even among
dissident groups. They reject Diaz-Balart's proposed amendments because
they believe they affect the Cuban people more than they affect the
island leadership.
"We call upon exiles to help fight this," said Francisco Chaviano, a
member of the illegal Cuban opposition group Agenda for the Transition.

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