(22 Mar 2022) FOR CLEAN VERSION SEE STORY NUMBER: 4372153
The turquoise and white sand beaches of Varadero which until recently received a significant number of Russian tourists now look quite empty.
On a recent morning, while the sun was rising, a small group of tourists could be seen sunbathing.
But the marina that generally attracts tourists was absent from large crowds.
Yirianny Lara, who runs a souvenir store, lamented the decline of tourists.
“Everything is very nice as you can see, but the little Russian tourism that we had when we were recovering is gone, because the war in Ukraine came and we are back in decline.”
Just as Cuba tries to recover its vital tourism industry after two years of drastic falls, product of an absence of United States visitors as a result of the tightening of sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump and the restrictions on coronavirus, the island’s tourism now suffers a new blow: the absence of Russian visitors that gave an oxygen to touristic activity in the last two years.
Thousands of Russian travelers had to cut their holidays in Varadero and other areas and return on special flights days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The European Union, Canada and the United States closed the airspace to Russian commercial flights, among other financial sanctions, as punishment for the attack.
Some airlines closed their ticket sales to the island until the end of March.
For some experts, this is a new setback for a country that relies heavily on tourism, and is working to attract Russian visitors.
Cuba allowed small groups of Russian tourists to reach the island nation in the midst of the pandemic and when its borders were closed.
“Cuba bet at a certain time on Russian tourism to alleviate the situation of lack of arrivals,” said José Luis Perelló, doctor in Economic Sciences and specialist in tourism development.
The decline in the tourism industry was much more sharp in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak.
It was not until mid-November 2021 that the country of 11 million residents reopened its borders, and allowed all international tourism.
That year, it received only 356,470 visitors, with Russian tourists leading those figures.
Several thousand of them enjoyed Varadero and other Cuban beaches when the war broke out.
The Russian Association of Tour Operators said in a statement that between 6,000 and 8,000 Russian tourists were in Cuba when the war began.
Several flights left in early March from Varadero to take these tourists back home.
Official numbers haven’t been released for the current month’s visitor figures, but some operators and industry experts in Cuba estimate that the war in Ukraine caused several thousand Russians to cancel their travel to the island in March.
Natasha Strelkova, Russian tour operator, said the decline in Russian tourists “is a blow for the Cuban economy, it is a strong blow.”
Cuban tourism authorities have made it clear in the official media that the island maintains its goal of reaching the figure of 2.5 million visitors that was set long before the war in Ukraine.
The construction of new hotels from a plan drawn in 2013 is still under way.
At the beginning of last week, Cuba opened one with 600 rooms in the capital. It also expects an increase in the arrival of tourists from Canada.
Tourism in the island hasn’t halted.
In the same week that the first return flights of Russian visitors took place in the midst of the war, the British cruise Marella Explorer 2 with almost 1,000 adult passengers was docked in Havana.
It was the first of four stops on its trip.
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