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.”


Vienna topples Melbourne in ‘most liveable city’ ranking

Updated 14 August 2018
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Vienna topples Melbourne in ‘most liveable city’ ranking

  • Each year 140 cities are given scores out of 100 on a range of factors such as living standards, crime and transport infrastructure
  • Vienna scored a ‘near-ideal’ 99.1, beating Melbourne into second place on 98.4

LONDON: Austria’s capital Vienna has beaten Melbourne to be ranked the “world’s most liveable city” in a new annual survey released Monday, ending the southern Australian city’s seven-year reign.

It is the first time a European metropolis has topped the annual chart compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit which identifies the best urban playgrounds to live and work in.

Each year 140 cities are given scores out of 100 on a range of factors such as living standards, crime, transport infrastructure, access to education and health care, as well as political and economic stability.

Vienna scored a “near-ideal” 99.1, beating Melbourne into second place on 98.4. Japan’s Osaka took third place.

Australia and Canada dominated the top ten, each boasting three cities. Australia had Melbourne, Sydney (fifth) and Adelaide (10th) while Canada had Calgary (fourth), Vancouver (sixth) and Toronto (joint seventh).

“Those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries,” researchers said in their report.

They noted that several cities in the top 10 had relatively low population densities which fostered “a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.”

Australia and Canada, researchers said, have an overall average population density of 3.2 and four people per square kilometer respectively, compared to a global average of 58.

Japan, which alongside Osaka boasted Tokyo in the top ten (joint seventh), is the glaring exception to that rule with a nationwide average of 347 people per square kilometer but its cities are still famed for their transport networks and living standards.

Copenhagen was the only other European city in the top ten at ninth place.

Researchers said wealthy financial capitals such as Paris (19th), London (48th) and New York (57th) tended to be “victims of their own success” with higher crime rates and overstretched infrastructure dampening their appeal.

At the other end of the spectrum the five worst cities to live in were Damascus at the bottom of the table followed by Dhaka, Lagos, Karachi and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

The survey also looked at cities where long-term improvements had been made. Abidjan, Hanoi, Belgrade and Tehran saw the largest improvements in liveability over the last five years — more than five percentage points.

Ukraine’s Kiev, the capital of a European country wracked by political violence, civil war and the loss of Crimea to Russia, saw the largest drop in its liveability over the last five years (-12.6 percent).

Puerto Rico’s San Juan — which was devastated by a hurricane last year — as well as Damascus and Caracas also saw steep drops over the same period.