Cuba tourism slides in wake of Hurricane Irma, TrumpHAVANA, Jan 30th  (Reuters) – Tourism to Cuba, one of the few bright spots in its ailing economy, has slid in the wake of Hurricane Irma and the Trump administration’s tighter restrictions on travel to the Caribbean island, a Cuban tourism official said on Monday. Although the number of visitors rose nearly 20 percent in 2017, it fell 10 percent on the year in December, and is down 7-8 percent this month, Jose Manuel Bisbe York, the president of Cuban state travel agency conglomerate Viajes Cuba, said.

Arrivals from the United States, which had surged in the wake of the U.S.-Cuban detente in 2014, took the worst hit, dropping 30 percent last December, he told Reuters.

“Since Hurricane Irma, we’ve seen arrivals shrink,” Bisbe York said on the sidelines of the event organized by U.S. travel agency insightCuba to dispel tourist misperceptions about Cuba.

Irma hit in September, just as the tourism sector was taking reservations for its high season from November to March.

Images of destruction put many would-be visitors off although Cuba had fixed its tourism installations within two months, said Bisbe York. Arrivals of Canadians, the largest group of tourists to Cuba, were down 4-5 percent.

“But we see this as a temporary thing and what we are seeing is that arrivals are recovering from month to month,” said Bisbe York, adding that Cuba would go ahead with its plans to launch more than 15 hotels island-wide this year.

“The first trimester will be the most difficult, because logically the change in the public perception takes time.”

Occupancy rates at the hotels in Cuba managed by Spain’s Meliá Hotels International S.A. were down around 20 percent on the year in December and January, said Francisco Camps, Melia’s Cuba deputy general manager.