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Cuba sets new record for tourists with over 2.4M in '09, but says discounts hurt revenues.

Cuba says more than 2.4 million tourists will come to the sun-kissed island by the end of the year, up 3.3 percent from 2008's record, though deep discounts and shorter stays mean vacation industry revenues are down overall.

The country will break the previous year's mark of 2.34 million visitors by nearly 80,000, fuelled by 2,000 new hotel rooms in top tourist areas, including Havana and Varadero, a white-sand beach north of the capital, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero

Cruz said in Thursday editions of the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

He did not say how much Cuban tourism took in and, unlike in previous years, no information on vacation industry revenue was made public during the year-end meeting of Cuba's parliament Sunday.

Marrero said in November that his ministry's revenues would fall about 11.7 percent, as Cuba has been forced to slash prices because of the global recession.

Foreign visitors generated over $2.7 billion last year, a 13.5 percent increase from 2007.

The number of travellers to Cuba has also been boosted by the Obama administration's decision to let Cuban-Americans with family on the island visit as often as they like.

It is difficult to measure the change's precise impact, however, since many are counted by immigration authorities as Cubans -- not foreign visitors -- when they visit their homeland.

But companies that operate charter flights say bookings are up 30 percent since the White House eased restrictions.

The weekend before Christmas, there were at least 18 flights from the U.S. to Cuba on a single day.

Previously, Cuban exiles could come here only once every three years. Washington's nearly half-century-old trade embargo keeps most other Americans from visiting altogether.

A top Cuban government official, speaking on anonymity because he was not authorized to have his name appear in print, said 200,000 Cuban-Americans will visit in 2009, about double last year's tally.

Marrero said Canada remains the top source of visitors, with more than 900,000 coming from that country this year, followed by Great Britain and Spain.

Source: Yahoo

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