Russian tourists resist trips to Cuba despite having been the lifeline of the island’s leisure industry during the two-year pandemic when flights from the Eurasian nation to Varadero and Cayo Coco didn’t stop.
However, according to data from Russian tour operators, between January and mid-April, months of the so-called high season in Cuba, just over 38,000 vacationers from that country visited Cuba.
These numbers, although they represent 4% more travelers in the same period in 2022 and 14% more than in the same period in 2021, indicate that demand for the Cuba destination is not rebounding as much as tourism businessmen would like. As a margin of comparison, in 2021, 146,000 Russian tourists traveled to Cuba.
According to the official website of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), despite these achievements, Russian airline Nordwind will increase the number of direct flights to Cuba in the summer. Starting next May 22 and until the end of the summer, there will be four weekly frequencies for Varadero, while for Cayo Coco there will be two.
According to Cristina León Iznaga, Tourism Consultant of the Cuban Embassy in Russia, in 2022, 54,000 Russians visited Cuba and that number will be surpassed in 2023. To entice them, Havana announced the rollout of Russian MIR cards as a means of payment, after Western sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine led to a ban on the use of Mastercards and Visa in Russia.
According to León Iznaga, it is now possible to withdraw Cuban pesos in cash from ATMs in Cuba with magnetic cards, while By the end of 2023, “Russian tourists should be able to pay in Cuba with MIR cards in shops, hotels, and restaurants.”
Russia has restored flights to Cuba using Turkey as a stopover after the West closed its skies to planes from the Eurasian country. And this has triggered prices, which not many Russians can afford. Then, competition from destinations such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela made the Russians choose other Caribbean destinations in addition to Cuba.
The prices of the vacation package in Varadero with departures scheduled from 30 May to come start at 244,000 rubles (just over $3,000) for seven nights in a 4-star all-inclusive hotel.
The tightening of economic, financial, and political relations between Moscow and Havana is proceeding at full speed, with increasingly frequent high-level contacts and visits by officials in both directions. But in the case of tourism, there are other elements to take into consideration.