Roundup: American arrivals in Cuba shooting up as ties thaw

June 2, 2015 5:19 am 

HAVANA, May 31 — The number of American tourists to Cuba increased by 36 percent during the first four months this year, though traveling to the island country is still restricted by U.S. laws.

A total of 51,458 Americans visited Cuba from January through April, up 36 percent from the 37,459 registered in the same period of 2014, said Jose Luis Perello, a professor of the Faculty of Tourism at the University of Havana.

Perello pointed out that 38,476 visitors flew directly from the United States to Cuba, compared with the 29,123 during the same period last year.

The other 12,982 Americans, added the professor, came to the island through third countries, marking an increase of 57 percent over the 8,246 Americans who flew to Cuba from elsewhere during the same period of 2014.

These data shed light on the number of Americans who come to Cuba through third countries to avoid the many restrictions imposed by Washington as part of the legal framework of its embargo on the island since 1962.

"Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are the first choices for Americans who come to Cuba from locations outside the United States," Perello said.

Since last December Cuba and the United States have been negotiating the resumption of their diplomatic ties and the eventual normalization of relations.

U.S. President Barack Obama has raised up to 12 categories of traveling permission to the island. Academics, religious workers and journalists, after making an application to the relevant departments, can be given the green light

Several U.S. airlines, such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways, have expressed their interest in starting to operate commercial flights to the island as soon as legally permitted.

Cuba's tourism sector received a record of 3 million vacationers last year, and now is getting prepared for the boom of visitors after an eventual normalization of relations with the United States.

According to experts, the island country could receive between 3 and 3.5 million American tourists each year, thus the Ministry of Tourism is working out a strategy to expand its hotel facilities, expecting to have 85,000 rooms of high standard by 2020.

Cuba's tourism industry generates over 2.5 billion dollars of revenues each year, and is the second source of income for the national economy, after the export of medical services. (PNA/Xinhua)

CTB/SSC

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