HAVANA, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Cuba is hoping to reach its goal of 5 million tourists this year despite a sharp drop of 7 percent in the arrival of visitors in the first quarter of 2018.
At a press conference about the upcoming 38th International Tourism Fair FITCuba 2018, Michel Bernal, commercial director of the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), said the decrease was due to the damage caused by Hurricane Irma last year and measures implemented by the U.S. government.
"We have seen a 7 percent decrease in the arrival of visitors in the first three months (of 2018), compared to the same period of 2017, but we have not given up on reaching 5 million tourists this year by implementing a strong commercial strategy," Bernal told reporters.
The official said Cuba's tourism industry grew 16.2 percent last year when almost 4.7 million visitors came to the island, a historic record for this Caribbean nation.
Canada continued to be the first source market, while Americans and Cubans residing abroad constituted the second and third largest groups of visitors, respectively.
"This situation remains in the first three months of this year. We are strengthening our main markets in Europe such as France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and Italy," Bernal added.
Despite restrictions imposed on U.S. citizens by President Donald Trump, Americans continue to arrive with a 17.8-percent increase in comparison to last year, explained the official.
In 2015 after diplomatic ties were reestablished with Washington, Cuba experienced a tourism boom that continued until Trump announced travel restrictions for U.S. citizens last year.
Bernal said the devastation left by Hurricane Irma coincided with the moment tour operators and travel agencies around the world made their sales for the 2017-2018 winter season.
"Customers' perception changed after the havoc left by Irma and they preferred to travel to other destinations this season than to our country and other Caribbean nations," he said.
Recovering past commercial activity is a fundamental strategy for MINTUR, he said, adding steps have been taken to add new flights from Russia, Spain, Mexico and Canada while increasing arrivals from Americans and Cubans living abroad.
In this sense, FITCuba 2018, which will take place in Villa Clara, in the center of the country, constitutes an ideal scenario to speak with international tourism executives, tour operators, travel agencies and airlines.
The event, explained Janet Ayala, director of communication of MINTUR, will gather about 3,000 participants, and include a business conference on foreign investment opportunities in the sector.
Tourism is the second source of income in Cuba after medical services abroad and is the fastest growing industry in the country.