HAVANA, July 30 The Cuban tourism industry stagnated in 2013 and is struggling this year for more visitors, a government report said on Wednesday, the latest indication of a general slowdown in the country's economy.
Tourist arrivals last year numbered 2.8 million and income totaled $2.3 billion, similar to 2012, according to the National Statistics Office statistical abstract for 2013 (www.one.cu/aec2013.htm).
Tourism is one of the Caribbean island's most important hard currency earners, after the export of professional services and remittances, and a major employer.
The industry faces a U.S. ban on travel to the Communist-run country, with the exception of Cuban Americans and licensed U.S. citizens.
An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 Cuban Americans visit each year, but the government does not count them as tourists.
The statistics office report said 92,000 U.S. citizens not of Cuban origin visited Cuba last year, down from 98,000 in 2012.
The official Juventud Rebelde newspaper said another report by the statistics office showed tourism was up 3.9 percent through June, due to increased arrivals earlier in the year, but declined 1.5 percent last month compared with June of last year.
"After an optimistic start this year, the arrival of travelers gradually has slowed," Juventud Rebelde said.
The newspaper cited a speech by Economy Minister Adel Yzquirdo earlier this month in which he criticized the sector for poor organization and promotion abroad.
The Cuban economy grew just 0.06 percent during the first semester of the year, compared with a 2.7 percent increase in the gross domestic product in 2013.
Cuba set a goal of three million visitors in 2013 and again for this year.
"At this rate it will be difficult to arrive at the anxiously awaited three million visitors, a psychological barrier that we have not been able to reach and at times appears unreachable," Juventud Rebelde said. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Dan Grebler)