Cuba tourism slides in wake of Hurricane Irma

The US imposed tighter travel restrictions to Cuba in November, after issuing a travel warning earlier due to a spate of alleged health attacks on diplomats in Havana. (Reuters)
Updated 30 January 2018
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Cuba tourism slides in wake of Hurricane Irma

HAVANA: Tourism to Cuba, one of the few bright spots in its ailing economy, has slid in the wake of Hurricane Irma and the Trump administration’s tighter restrictions on travel to the Caribbean island, a Cuban tourism official said on Monday.
Although the number of visitors rose nearly 20 percent in 2017, it fell 10 percent on the year in December, and is down 7-8 percent this month, Jose Manuel Bisbe York, the president of Cuban state travel agency conglomerate Viajes Cuba, said.
Arrivals from the US, which had surged in the wake of the US-Cuban detente in 2014, took the worst hit, dropping 30 percent last December, he told Reuters.
“Since Hurricane Irma, we’ve seen arrivals shrink,” Bisbe York said on the sidelines of the event organized by US travel agency insightCuba to dispel tourist misperceptions about Cuba.
Irma hit in September, just as the tourism sector was taking reservations for its high season from November to March.
Images of destruction put many would-be visitors off although Cuba had fixed its tourism installations within two months, said Bisbe York. Arrivals of Canadians, the largest group of tourists to Cuba, were down 4-5 percent.
“But we see this as a temporary thing and what we are seeing is that arrivals are recovering from month to month,” said Bisbe York, adding that Cuba would go ahead with its plans to launch more than 15 hotels island-wide this year.
“The first trimester will be the most difficult, because logically the change in the public perception takes time.”
Occupancy rates at the hotels in Cuba managed by Spain’s Meliá Hotels International S.A. were down around 20 percent on the year in December and January, said Francisco Camps, Melia’s Cuba deputy general manager.
“From February though, we are already reaching figures similar to those we had in previous years,” he said.
Republican President Donald Trump’s more hostile stance toward Cuba than his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama looks set to have a more lasting impact than Irma.
The number of US visitors had surged since the Obama administration created greater exemptions to a ban on tourism to the Caribbean’s largest island and restored regular commercial flights and cruises.
Arrivals reached a record 619,523 last year, up from 91,254 in 2014.
But the Trump administration in September issued a warning on travel there due to a spate of alleged health attacks on US diplomats in Havana. In November, tighter travel regulations also went into effect.
The double whammy seriously depressed US visits, American tour operators and a cruise line said at Monday’s event, although in reality the restrictions remain looser than before the detente and travel easier.
Cuba is also still one of the safest destinations worldwide, they said.
“While the regulations he changed very little the perception in the US was that you no longer could travel to Cuba legally,” said insightCuba’s Tom Popper, noting his agency’s reservations were down 50 percent this year.
“Part of hosting this event was to communicate that it is 100 percent legal to travel to Cuba.”


Maldives issue warning amid spike in tourist drownings

This file photo taken on August 17, 2007 shows the Coco Palm resort on Boduhithi Island in the Maldives. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Maldives issue warning amid spike in tourist drownings

  • The tourism ministry was in the process of identifying safe zones for ocean swimming and diving after the spike in drownings, officials said

COLOMBO: Five tourists including a honeymooning couple have drowned in a single week in the Maldives, officials said, prompting a nationwide safety warning to holiday resorts in the pristine islands.
Tourism officials said all resort operators in the paradise archipelago were urged Monday to keep a close eye on their clients after the spate of deaths.
Strong currents caused by a north-east monsoon were blamed for the slew of drownings in the idyllic atoll nation, where such accidents are usually few and far between.
Around 1.4 million tourists visit the Maldives every year but the latest government data shows just 31 people drowned in 2017.
On January 13, two Filipino newlyweds were swept to their deaths by a powerful undertow.
The man got into trouble and his wife went to his aid, but both perished. Their bodies were recovered and repatriated to the Philippines, officials said.
An 84-year-old Czech tourist and a 66-year-old South Korean woman died within two days of each other at a resort near the capital Male while snorkelling.
A Russian woman on a dive trip was the latest casualty on Sunday.
A Pakistani holidaymaker came close to death but was plucked to safety and taken to hospital.
The tourism ministry was in the process of identifying safe zones for ocean swimming and diving after the spike in drownings, officials said.
The Maldives relies on tourism and visitors come for the turquoise waters and white sand beaches of the islands scattered some 800 kilometers (500 miles) across the equator.