Cuba counts on Russians to boost still-ailing tourism sector in 2024 Reuters via

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People enjoy the beach in Havana, Cuba, August 9, 2023. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba is counting on winter-weary Russians to help boost the Caribbean island nation’s ailing tourism sector in 2024, according to the Cuban ambassador in Moscow, after a disappointing 2023 saw visitors numbers fall short of the government’s goals.

Some 185,000 tourists from Russia traveled to Havana and Cuba’s dazzling white-sand beaches in 2023 and “we hope that the number will rise to 250,000 people this year,” Cuban ambassador Julio Antonio Garmendía said in a report by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

That would represent a 35% jump in tourists from Russia in 2024, a desperately needed shot in the arm for a key Cuban industry that has struggled to revive following the COVID-19 pandemic. Stiffened U.S. sanctions under former U.S. President Donald Trump also complicate travel by U.S. citizens to the island.

The Cuban diplomat in Moscow said new flights to the island from the Russian capital – a 13-hour direct flight – had helped boost visitor numbers last year and would do the same in 2024.

Russia, a long-time political ally of Cuba, has also introduced its MIR credit card for use on the island, facilitating transactions for citizens who visit Cuba’s cities and resorts.

Communist-run Cuba, knee-capped by a near-unprecedented economic crisis and widespread shortages, is counting on increased foreign currency generated by tourists this year to help import food, fuel and medicine to the island.

Cuban officials have said 2.4 million tourists arrived on the island in 2023, around 1.1 million visitors less than the 3.5 million it had budgeted.

This year, tourism officials predict the number of visitors to rise to a more modest 3.2 million even as the country confronts an ongoing economic crisis.

According to the national statistics agency ONEI, the main sources of tourists to the island in 2023 were Canada (936,436 visitors), Cubans residing in other countries (358,481), Russia (184,819), the United States (159,032), Spain (89,285) and Germany (69,475).