Cuba sees 13 pct hike in tourism revenue in 2008

Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 6:14 p.m.

HAVANA Cuba saw record tourism in 2008 that generated more than $2.7 billion in revenue, a 13.5 percent increase over the previous year, the government reported.

Some 2.35 million foreigners visited the island last year, 9.3 percent more than in 2007, according to a National Office of Statistics report posted online this week. The visitor surge helped the industry earn about $326 million more than it did in 2007.

The report did not say how much profit the sector generated.

Cuban tourism has remained strong while visitors to other Caribbean destinations have dropped amid the world financial crisis. International travel operators say the island remains popular because many visitors can buy relatively cheap, all-inclusive packages and can budget trip costs well in advance. At the same time, the financial crunch has not yet hit hard in Canada, the top source of Cuba's visitors.

Washington's nearly 50-year-old trade embargo effectively bans U.S. tourists from Cuba. But Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany follow Canada as the top suppliers of tourists.

The banner year for tourism came after foreign visitor rates dipped in 2006 and 2007. The government offered no explanation for the decline, but the island has relatively low returning visitor rates. Some tourists complain of poor service, spotty infrastructure and lousy food, indicative of a communist system where shortages are common and state employees feel little motivation to excel at their jobs.

State media reported Monday that Cuba's nickel industry out-earned tourism in 2008, becoming the top source of government revenue for the second straight year. The government didn't say how much income the nickel industry generated.

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