US visitors to Cuba surge 93 percent

Havana (AFP) – The number of Americans visiting Cuba surged 93 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2016, the Cuban government said Wednesday.

The communist island is basking in its newfound glow as a trendy tourist destination since Washington and Havana announced a historic rapprochement in December 2014.

Cuba has welcomed a stream of celebrities and VIPs since then, including US President Barack Obama, the pope, the Rolling Stones and German designer Karl Lagerfeld, who presented a Cuban-inspired runway show Tuesday for French fashion house Chanel.

The United States still maintains a trade and financial embargo on Cuba that forbids US citizens from traveling to the island for tourism, but Obama has loosened restrictions to the point that the first US cruise ship in 50 years was able to dock in Havana Monday.

The Carnival cruise liner circumvented the tourism ban by offering passengers “cultural exchanges,” including meetings with artists, musicians and business owners, as well as dance classes and guided tours.

In all, 94,000 Americans visited Cuba from January to April, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said at the opening of an international tourism fair in Havana.

The figure for all of last year came in at more than 160,000, an increase of 76 percent from 2014, he said.

Cuba welcomed 3.5 million tourists from around the world last year, a 17 percent increase, adding a much-needed $2.8 billion to the economy.

Regular flights from the United States to Cuba are expected to begin later this year.

The Cuban government has announced an accelerated hotel construction program to cope with booming demand.

AFP, yahoo.com

May 4, 2016

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