Russians disappear from Cuba’s beaches, casting doubt on tourism recovery

Band Mark Frank

VARADERO, March 11 (Reuters)When planes full of Russian tourists left Cuba this week, their holiday interrupted by war in Ukraine, marked a sad day in the resort town of Varadero, a visible sign that the conflict will rock the island nation’s fragile economy.

Varadero, a finger of white sand stretchesing in the blue Caribbean Sea, has long been a magnet for Russians fleeing the Nordic winter.

In 2021, as much of the world hunkered down amid the coronavirus pandemic, visitors from Russia soared to 40% of total arrivals to Cuba, according to government figures.

Varadero’sthe beaches, usually teeming with tourists at this time of year, are suddenly calm,identifier Yanet Costafreda, which sells trinkets to tourists along the palm-lined streets.

“Russians were the main market we had for the last … two years,” Costafreda said. said in an interview. “I am worried because we see the future is uncertain.”

At least 8,000 Russian holidaymakers rushed last week to find return flights from Cuba after many Western countries closed airspace to Russian planes in solidarity with Ukraine.

More Russia-Cuba flights have been discontinued until further notice.

The difficult situation means that Cuba will struggle to meet its target of 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2022, explained Paolo Spadoni, specialist in the Cuban economy at the University of Augusta in Georgia.

Island CommunistsLEDs the government is hoping for 4% growth in 2022, driven mainly by a big jump in tourism.

“Losing the Russian market in 2022… to have quite a significant negative effect for the Cuban economy, for the Cuban tourism industry in particular,” Spadoni said.

Russians been should represent up to 20% of foreign tourists in 2022, Spadoni said, but total will be far from achieving this objective if the Ukrainian conflict continues.

Other tourism operators Reuters spoke to said they hoped an increase in visitors from Canada and Europe would help fill the void.

The faltering tourism industry, a vital source of foreign currency in Cuba, has left Cuba with shortages of food and medicine to inputs for agriculture and industry.

Tourism has already suffered for years after former US President Donald Trump ended cruise ship moorings and restricted flights to the island.

(Reporting by Marc Frank, Mario Fuentes and Nelson Gonzalez; Editing by Dave Sherwood and Richard Chang)

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