Thursday, April 22, 2010

March Arrivals Up

Cuba says tourist arrivals recovering from slump

* Arrivals up 6.4 percent in March

* March increase offsets 3.4 pct drop in January-February

HAVANA, April 21 (Reuters) - The Cuban tourism industry recovered in March from a slump in the first two months of the year, with 6.4 percent more vacationers arriving than in March 2009, the National Statistics Office (ONE.CU) reported on Wednesday.

It said 296,988 tourists came to the communist-ruled Caribbean island last month, bringing the total for the first quarter to 810,150, or just 149 less than the same period in 2009.

Tourism had been down 3.4 percent in the first two months of 2010 due to a decline in visitors from Canada, Cuba's top tourist provider.

The March recovery was good news for cash-strapped Cuba, which last year got more than $2 billion, or 20 percent of its foreign exchange, from tourism and related businesses.

The increase was likely due to a jump in arrivals by Cuban-Americans after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration lifted all restrictions on their visits home last year.

Previously, they had been limited to one trip home every three years.

Most Americans cannot legally travel to Cuba due to the 48-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the country.

Arrivals from the United States and some other countries under the category of "other" rose 11.6 percent through February.

Most of that increase was probably Cuban-Americans because operators of U.S.-Cuba charter flights say their business is booming due to a flood of exiles visiting their homeland.

Slightly more than 2.4 million tourists visited Cuba last year, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2008. Despite the increase, tourism income declined 11.1 percent as visitors spent less in the midst of the global economic recession.

Tourism officials have said income was increasing this year without providing any figures.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Jeff Franks and Chizu Nomiyama)

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