Apartheid Tourism Update: Cuba desperately tries to woo Chinese and Russian visitors

. . . To the left, here is the monument to Mao Che Dong . . . Lauzán’s satirical take on Chinese tourists

From our Annals of Apartheid Tourism Bureau with some assistance from our Bureau of Socialist Magical Thinking

Castro, Inc. is not only an expert at lying, but at magical thinking, which is a form of lying. If they want something bad enough –so they think — then whatever that goal might be will be attained. Bountiful harvests, deluxe housing for all, miraculous vaccines, etc. And they will promote that magical thinking through promises that can never be kept. This time around the magical goal is the resurrection of apartheid tourism.

Fidel founded this quirky school of thought, and even after his involuntary retirement kept pushing his harebrained schemes in the Party newspaper Granma. From super-cows that produced millions of gallons of milk to Moringa as the perfect solution to food shortages, there were no limits to Fidel’s magical thinking. His successors are now continuing down the same path, promising a recovery of Cuba’s moribund apartheid tourist industry. Buena suerte, compañeros. You might as well click your heels three times and say, “Russian and Chinese tourists will save us.”

From Granma Euro-Lite (Reuters)

Russian tourist Serguei Boyaryshnic wandered in awe among the pastel-colored buildings and cobblestone streets of Old Havana on a weekday morning, his family in tow.

“We had heard a lot about Cuba. Our countries have been friends for years,” said the 36-year-old Moscow resident, who had joined a small tour group. “We love everything about it.”

Cuba has recently begun offering perks to entice visitors like Boyaryshnic from allied countries such as Russia and China as it struggles to revive a stagnant tourism sector still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

That has meant more and sometimes direct flights from Russia and China, the elimination of visa requirements for Chinese visitors and Cuba’s recent decision to accept Russia’s Mir payment cards, one of only a handful of countries to join Moscow’s alternative to Visa and Mastercard.

That strategy has paid early dividends.

More than 66,000 Russians visited the Caribbean island in the first three months of the year, state-run Cuban media reported, double that of the same period in 2023. The Russian visitors are one of Cuba’s few tourism bright spots, however.

Stiff U.S. sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump contributed to a sharp reduction in U.S. visitors and arrivals from many European countries have also dropped off this year, state data shows.

Cuba’s bet on distant countries may not make up for the overall visitor decline, said Paolo Spadoni, an associate professor at Augusta University and expert on Cuban tourism. A trip from Beijing, with layovers, for example, can require 24 hours or more of travel.

“It’s a long shot,” said Spadoni. “(Chinese and Russian visitors) may provide some relief in the short term, but it’s very unlikely that they will make up for the lost contingent of European and American visitors.”

That means Cuba is unlikely to meet its goal of attracting 3.2 million visitors in 2024, Spadoni said. He estimates the island will receive between 2.6 million and 2.7 million tourists this year.

On a recent weekday morning, Old Havana – a U.N. World Heritage site and one of Latin America’s most famed tourist hotspots – was eerily quiet.

Signs of an ailing industry are everywhere. Hotel lobbies and restaurants, once popular with foreigners, are all but barren. White-sand beaches see few international visitors. And at Havana’s airport, taxi drivers complain they often wait all day for a single client.

For Migdalia Gonzalez, a 55-year-old street vendor in Old Havana, the situation couldn’t be worse.

She has noticed more Russian and Chinese tourists than in years past, but neither were fans of the empanada pastries she sells.

“Tourist activity here has hit rock bottom,” she said.

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