Cuba lowers tourism target 15% after US cruise ban

Havana (AFP) –


Cuba has revised down by about 15 percent its forecast for the number of tourists visiting this year, after a US ban on cruise ship stopovers in the Communist island, the government said on Thursday.

President Donald Trump's administration announced the ban on June 4, aiming to cut an essential revenue source for a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

"Despite the US government's measures to curb tourism in our country, we will welcome 4.3 million visitors in 2019," Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero said in a televised address to parliament.

That is around 15 percent down on forecasts of 5.1 million tourists in 2019 and around 10 percent lower than the number of visitors in 2018.

Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures.

Cuba seemed set to welcome record numbers of US cruise ship tourists this year. In the first four months of this year 250,000 arrived, double the rate of the previous year.

After the sale of medical services, tourism is the island's second-biggest source of earnings, bringing revenues estimated at $2.5 billion per year.

American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease a half-century trade embargo in 2014.

But President Donald Trump tightened policy within months of taking office.

Cuba received more than 400,000 American tourists between January and May this year.

Under the US measures, the Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans.

The last US cruise ship departed Cuba on June 5.