Venezuela receives first European cruise ship in 15 years

Venezuela on Tuesday received its first European cruise ship in 15 years after long being avoided by tourists due to high levels of insecurity and economic turmoil.

The Bahamas-flagged "Amadea" docked at the Caribbean island of Margarita with almost 500 passengers -- mainly from Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland -- on board.

"For many years Venezuela was off the radar of cruise ships," said Tourism Minister Ali Padron, as he welcomed the historic docking.

Exchange controls, product scarcity and unreliable basic services such as water and electricity have long kept foreigners at bay, forcing travel agencies to close their doors.

Venezuela "became a very insecure, high-risk destination," Reinaldo Pulido, vice-president of the Conseturismo tourism council, told AFP.

But after years of hyperinflation and a currency in free fall that plunged Venezuelans into misery and pushed millions to flee the country, the ravaged economy -- and tourism sector -- has recently shown timid signs of recovery.

The de facto dollarization of the economy and easing of price controls have bolstered imports, resulting in a greater variety of products on offer and new shops opening.

And since last year, the country has received tourists from Russia who are unwelcome in many other countries since the start of the war in Ukraine.

There are no official tourism figures by which to measure the trend.

For Conseturismo president Leudo Gonzalez, the arrival of the Amadea "opens the possibility of (Venezuela) returning to the radar of the main cruise lines."

For Pulido, any initiative "that brings new international tourists is a gain."

He added: "For us it is wonderful, a celebration."