Feature: International tourists return to Cuba amid COVID-19 pandemic

Source: Xinhua| 2020-09-05 14:04:04|Editor: huaxia

by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- A plane carrying 104 international tourists arrived at Jardines del Rey International Airport in Cuba on Friday from Canada, the first commercial flight landing in Cuba since the Caribbean country reopened tourism for foreign visitors weeks ago.

The flight came as Cuba faces a second wave of coronavirus while lockdown restrictions have been reimposed in Havana, the country's epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before this, only a charter flight carrying a family of seven from the Bahamas had arrived on the island, after Cuba partially reopened borders to international tourists in early July.

"We are bringing vacations back once again. Today we are celebrating the restart of travel to Cayo Coco, Cuba," tour operator Air Canada Vacations said on social media.

Foreign visitors are only allowed to enter resorts in the northern and southern keys of the country, and excursions inside the area allocated for tourist activities will be at their disposal, according to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

Passengers are subjected to temperature checks and polymerase chain reaction tests when arriving at Cuban airports. Medical teams also conduct epidemiological monitoring at touristic centers and hotels.

Cristina Leon, president of the Gran Caribe hotel group, told Xinhua that Canada, Europe and China are very important to the country's tourism, but the health emergency has made it difficult for tourists to travel here.

"Many tourists are interested in traveling to Cuba, enjoying our nature, and discovering our culture," she said. "We want foreign visitors to feel safe here."

The first thing is to rebuild people's trust in traveling because a considerable number of COVID-19 patients have contracted the virus while on a plane, said Jose Luis Perello, a university professor and tourism industry analyst.

Alexei Torres, director of the marketing department at the Spanish Iberostar hotel chain, said that the arrival of international tourists on the island is very positive for the country's economic recovery.

"We have been waiting for this moment for so long," he said. "Cuba can provide visitors with a unique experience not only because of its natural beauty, but also because of the strict fulfillment of social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 health protocols at hotel facilities."

The new regulations also protect the staff serving foreign visitors at resorts, as they are required to stay home during a whole week under medical observation after working seven days.

Cuba has 241 beach destinations and ranks second in the Caribbean behind the Dominican Republic in terms of the number of international tourist arrivals.

In 2019, Cuba's tourism industry declined significantly after the U.S. administration issued new restrictions on travels of U.S. nationals to Cuba and barred U.S. airlines from flying to all destinations in the Caribbean nation.

Tourism is a pillar industry for the island nation and a major source of national revenue.

To date, the Caribbean nation has reported 4,266 COVID-19 cases, with 100 deaths. Enditem