Cuban tourism recovering after storms

HAVANA (Reuters) The two hurricanes that recently ravaged Cuba won’t keep tourists from the communist island during the high season but global economic woes might, industry watchers said.

They said there have been no cancellations of tours booked for the December-March peak season and that an expected increase in Canadian visitors should help offset any reduction in Europeans put off by rising air fares and other economic problems.

That was good news for the country still recovering from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck within 10 days of each other starting on August 30, causing extensive damage, including to hotels and infrastructure.

The government said tourism increased 13 percent through August and will be Cuba’s second most important foreign exchange earner after the export of medical and other technical services, at around $2.5 billion this year.

‘There will be some decline in tourism from Europe as air fares are up 30 percent, but we expect another big jump from Canada to make up at least part the difference, along with new markets like Russia,’ the representative of a European hotel chain said.

Immediately after the storms, some tours to hard-hit areas were cancelled, but not for the months ahead, he said. The hurricane season ends on November 30.

‘The hotels are completely taken by tour operators starting in late December and to date there have been no cancellations of flights or rooms.’

The bigger uncertainty now, he said, was the financial crisis roiling markets around the world.