Cuba hopes to receive 5 million tourists in 2018

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HAVANA, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) — Cuba hopes to set a new record in tourism by receiving five million foreign visitors this year.

“2018 will be the year of the five million tourists,” Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said on Sunday, adding “it will be a year of major investments” in tourism as well.

The government’s 2030 tourism development plan foresees building 224 new hotels and expanding another 32 establishments with high occupancy rates, to boost visitor numbers.

Cuba’s tourism industry currently offers 68,000 hotel rooms, and the plan calls for raising that figure to 103,000. Another 21,000 rooms are available at private homes that take in tourists.

In 2017, Cuba welcomed 4.7 million tourists, 16.5 percent more than the year before.

At that rate of growth, Cuba should easily break through the 5 million barrier, but its recent tourism boom was fueled largely by Havana’s much celebrated rapprochement with Washington under then U.S. President Barrack Obama.

Following the restoration of diplomatic ties between the former Cold War foes, U.S. tourism to Cuba spiked as travel restrictions were relaxed to reflect friendlier ties and direct flights once again linked the two nations.

Between January and November of 2017, Cuba saw 579,288 visitors from the United States, an increase of nearly 250 percent over 2016.

But U.S. foreign policy has taken a 180-degree turn under the administration of President Donald Trump.

Travel restrictions have been reimposed and bilateral ties are once again tense, with Washington even accusing Havana of bizarre “acoustic attacks” on its diplomatic personnel, which investigators from both countries have been unable to prove.

Using the unverified attacks as a pretext, the U.S. State Department this week warned Americans against traveling to Cuba.

Still, Cuba’s tourism sector remains upbeat, inviting investors to take part in the growing industry through a portfolio of projects, including new golf courses at the beach resort of Varadero and the eastern province of Holguin, among others.

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