Tourism in Cuba

Tourism in Cuba is an industry that generates over 4.5 million arrivals in 2017, and is one of the main sources of revenue for the island.[1] With its favorable climate, beaches, colonial architecture and distinct cultural history, Cuba has long been an attractive destination for tourists. “Cuba treasures 253 protected areas, 257 national monuments, 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 7 Natural Biosphere Reserves and 13 Fauna Refuge among other non-tourist zones.”[2]

Having been Spain’s closest colony to the United States until 1898, in the first part of the 20th century Cuba continued to taken advantage of by big investments, creation of industries, and travel to support mostly US interests and corporations. Its proximity and close relation to the United States also helped Cuba’s market economy prosper fairly quickly. As relations between Cuba and the United States deteriorated rapidly after the Cuban Revolution and the resulting expropriation and nationalisation of businesses, the island became cut off from its traditional market by an embargo and a travel ban was imposed on U.S. citizens visiting Cuba. The tourist industry declined to record low levels within two years of Castro’s accession to power. Unlike the US, Canada normalised relations with Cuba in the 1910s and Canadians increasingly visited Cuba for vacations. Approximately one third of visitors to Cuba each year (in 2014) are Canadians. The Cuban government has moderated its state ownership policies and allowed for localised and small private business since 1980. It also pursues revitalisation programs aimed at boosting tourism. United States reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015 and the tourism industry is expected to greatly benefit from normalised relations with US in the near future.

Health tourism
Further information: Healthcare in Cuba
As well as receiving traditional tourism revenues, Cuba attracts health tourists, generating annual revenues of around $40 million for the Cuban economy. Cuba has been a popular health tourism destination for more than 20 years. In 2005, more than 19,600 foreign patients traveled to Cuba for a wide range of treatments including eye surgery, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, and orthopaedics. Many patients are from Latin America, although medical treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, often known as night blindness, has attracted many patients from Europe and North America.[22][23]

Some complaints have arisen that foreign “health tourists” paying with dollars receive a higher quality of care than do Cuban citizens. Former leading Cuban neurosurgeon and dissident Dr. Hilda Molina asserts that the central revolutionary objective of free, quality medical care for all has been eroded by Cuba’s need for foreign currency. Molina says that following the economic collapse known in Cuba as the Special Period, the Cuban government established mechanisms designed to turn the medical system into a profit-making enterprise, thus creating a disparity in the quality of healthcare services between Cubans and foreigners.[24]

Mountain tourism
The recent studies shows that Cuba has a huge potential for mountaineering activity, however, it is not utilized properly. The mountaineering in Cuba should be considered to be one of the key contributors (as well as other forms of active tourism e.g. biking, diving, caving) to the development, prosperity, and well-being of all stakeholders, and especially for the communities outside the tourism enclaves[25]. Furthermore, mountaineering regions mostly lie outside the enclaves, so no conflict will exist between active and all-inclusive tourism. And what is most important is that tourism product diversification (both product and spatial) can be achieved[26]. Furthermore, by creating spatial and thematic product links as well as synergies (also with all-inclusive tourism), mountaineering, as well as other forms of active tourism (e.g. biking, diving, caving) often develop in destinations[27].

Sex tourism
Main article: Prostitution in Cuba
Although Fidel Castro sought to eliminate prostitution after taking power, the discrepancy between typical Cuban wages (less than one US dollar per day) and the spending power of foreign tourists lures some Cubans, including minors,[28] into prostitution. However, allegations of widespread sex tourism have been downplayed by Cuban justice minister Maria Esther Reus.[29] According to the Miami Herald, prostitution is not illegal in Cuba, but procuring a prostitute for others is outlawed. The age of sexual consent on the island is 16.[29] According to a travel advice website by the government of Canada, “Cuba is actively working to prevent child sex tourism, and a number of tourists, including Canadians, have been convicted of offences related to the corruption of minors aged 16 and under. Prison sentences range from 7 to 25 years.”[30] It is illegal to import or produce pornography in Cuba.[citation needed]

While the growth of tourism has benefited the city of Havana economically, there have been several negative side effects. One such side effect is the revival of sex tourism in the city. Sex tourism was a central part of the tourism industry before the Revolution. However, after 1960, prostitution was essentially eradicated on the island due to government initiatives and a significant drop in demand as tourism was minimized.[31] With tourism becoming more prevalent in the 1990s, however, so did the practice of prostitution. The demographic profile of tourists (the overwhelming majority being men between ages 25–60) is a key indicator of the existence of prostitution. Additionally, websites and magazines, such as Playboy, have outlined the opportunities for both


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