Cuba hits target of 2 million tourists

Campaign News | Monday, 27 December 2004

Achievement is victory in face of US efforts to chke off business

HAVANA 27 Dec - Cuba's tourism minister said on Sunday that 2 million people visited the Caribbean island so far this year, achieving a long sought after goal despite US efforts to undermine the country's main foreign exchange earner.

"This year the US government increased the unjust blockade imposed on our country and pledged to affect the unstoppable development of our industry," Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.

"These 2 million visitors represent an 8 percent increase over last year and are one more demonstration that Cuba is not alone," he added at a ceremony in eastern Holguin province where one of the island's tourist resorts is located.

Most US citizens are banned by their government from traveling to Cuba and visits by Cuban-Americans are also restricted. Nevertheless, 200,000 people came from the United States last year, 130,000 of Cuban origin.

The number of US citizens travelling to Cuba has been reduced by more than 50 percent since President Bush in June eliminated most loopholes allowing them to visit and restricted Cuban-Americans to one visit every three years, US travel agencies reported this month.

As part of its stepped up effort to undermine President Fidel Castro's government the United States is also funding information drives in Europe dissuading travel to Cuba on human rights grounds.

Tourism and related activities earned revenues of $2.1 billion in 2003 and those earnings increased 15 percent this year, Economy and Planning Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said earlier in the week.

The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and a slowing world economy put a dampener on the country's hope to reach 2 million arrivals in 2002.

Cuba turned to tourism after the collapse of European Communism plunged its socialist economy into crisis.

"The tourism industry accounted for 4 percent of foreign exchange earnings in 1990 and 41 percent this year," Marrero said.

"The number of hotel rooms was 13,000 and today there are 41,000, 40 percent four and five-star," he said.

Foreign hotel chains, such as France's Accor and Spain's Sol Melia, manage the majority of five-star and four-star hotels in Cuba.

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