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Departing Russian Tourists Provide a Massive Blow to Ailing Cuban Economy

Departing Russian Tourists Add To Cuba's Economic Worries

Departing Russian Tourists Deliver a Massive Blow to Ailing Cuban Economy

Cuba has struggled in its tourism recovery, unlike some of its neighboring countries. Cuba’s recovery lagged far behind those of nearby countries. Mexico welcomed 31 million international visitors in 2021, which was a 28 percent improvement over 2020, the Dominican Republic saw tourist numbers which were around 77 percent of 2019 figures, Panama expect the country to attract 2.3 million visitors in 2022, which would represent a full recovery.

Cuba’s tourism recovery, on the other hand, has not been so fortunate. Just when things were looking to move a little in the positive direction, the Russia-Ukraine war took place, which again seems to have halted the country’s progress.

Varadero, a narrow stretch of white sand extending out into the Caribbean sea, has long attracted scores of Russians who wanted to flee the northern winter.

However last month, planeloads of Russian tourists left Cuba abruptly, their vacations interrupted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Most Russia-Cuba flights have been scrapped until further notice. Due to this unexpected development, Cuba is likely to struggle to meet its goal of 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2022. The island’s communist-led government had hoped that the tourism sector would provide a much-needed growth to the ailing economy in 2022.

“Losing the Russian market in 2022 … will have quite a significant negative effect for the Cuban economy, for the Cuban tourism industry in particular,” said Paolo Spadoni, an expert on the Cuban economy at Augusta University in Georgia.

Russians were expected to comprise about 20% of foreign tourists in 2022. This looks like an unlikely scenario if the Ukraine war drags on. Cuban tourism industry already suffered for several years due to sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump, which have continued under the Biden administration as well.

The tourist industry has been a vital source of foreign exchange in Cuba. As the industry is in disarray, it is having a huge impact on Cuba, leading to shortages of food and medicines.