Hurricane Irma might have inundated Havana, but Cuba has already beat several records in 2017 when it comes to tourism. For one, the 286,000 U.S. visitors the island received in the first five months of 2017 is already more than the total (282,000) for all of 2016. But both U.S. and Cuban embassy staffs will be halved following reports of sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats, slowing the visa process going forward. While the United States has suspended visas for Cubans indefinitely, the Cuban embassy in Washington has yet to make a similar statement regarding visas issued to Americans. Still, the return to tense relations could come with a return to the pre-rapprochement days in which visas to go to Cuba could take up to a year to process.
All in all, 3.6 million tourists have traveled to the island so far this year, though the recent natural disaster and diplomatic events made a 50 percent dent in tourism in the month of September when compared to the same month last year. Now the Cuban government is hurrying to restore its most popular tourist destinations in time for the high season. Keeping the tourism sector afloat is a priority for the country’s economy, which is struggling to bounce back from a 2016 recession amid a crippling drop in the fuel supply from Venezuela. In a September 26 meeting, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero reassured a group of 160 Cuban industry workers that the government has reestablished water and electricity to 100 percent of tourist sites and that the country is still on track to receive a record 4.7 million visitors this year.
AS/COA Online takes a look at where Cuba’s tourism numbers stand now.