Tourism normally accounts for about 13% of Cuba’s gross domestic product and in recent years has been a major source of the nation’s foreign currency reserves, which are needed to pay for imports and service debt obligations.
However, the tourist industry in Cuba has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the United States’ economic, financial and commercial blockade.
In recent decades, Canada has annually topped the list of Cuba’s tourist arrivals by country, followed by the US.
The Cuban government reports that the blockade inflicted losses to Cuban tourism of more than US$360 million in 2020–21. The losses were the result of cancelled trips, services, operations and logistics, according to the Cuban Tourism Ministry.
The blockade was further strengthened by 243 additional draconian sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump’s administration. Both the blockade and those additional restrictions have been continued by president Joe Biden’s administration, with Biden imposing further restrictions and sanctions.
These have had a devastating effect on the Cuban economy and, in particular, the tourist industry by thwarting foreign business operations in the tourism sector. Successive US administrations have sought to apply maximum pressure on Cuba to block its sources of foreign exchange earnings by limiting US travel and remittances, limiting Cuba’s earnings from the export of medical services, and discouraging foreign investment in Cuba.
Trump banned US cruise ships, and sailing and fishing boats, from visiting Cuba. He also banned most commercial, charter and private flights from the US to Cuba, with the exception of limited operation flights to Havana. To make matters worse, Trump also banned US citizens from staying at any hotels or other places of accommodation owned by the Cuban government, including those leased to or managed by foreign companies.
This year, foreign arrivals in Cuba crashed. Overall, visits have decreased by around 90% compared with 2019.
The loss of tourist income has been enormously damaging to Cuba’s economy.