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After a rough year filled with hurricanes and travel restrictions from foreign countries, Cuba’s tourism sector is finally beginning to bounce back — most notably with American tourists.
Data from the Cuban Tourism Ministry shows that the numbers of US visitors to Cuba, though still in decline as compared to when the island first opened up to them, are starting to climb upward again.
US travelers to Cuba in September 2018 reached a total of 460,646 tourists, according to Reuters, which reviewed the statistics from the tourism ministry. That figure is still down 8.8% year-over-year, but it’s a major uptick when compared to the 24% year-over-year decline recorded in June 2018.
The recent rebound in US visitors is a good sign for Cuba’s tourism growth, which is still working to overcome recent hardships. In 2017 the Caribbean island nation faced dual difficulties in attracting American tourists: One being Hurricane Irma, which slammed into Cuba in September 2017; The other being diplomatic sanctions for Cuba and travel restrictions for US travelers implemented by US President Donald Trump in June 2017. These restrictions re-imposed many of the travel restrictions that former US President Barack Obama lifted during his administration and made it more difficult for US tourists to visit Cuba.
As recently as November, the Trump administration was adding names to a blacklist of tourist attractions, which seemed to be dampening US tourism there.
The large majority of American travelers visited Cuba on a cruise ship, a popular option as the cruise companies sort out difficult logistics and legal footwork in the wake of the Trump administration’s restrictions. September’s number of US tourists that came to Cuba via cruise was twice that for the same time in 2017.
On the other hand, 222,000 Americans flew to the island in September to stay in hotels there. That’s a 42% drop year-over-year, and explains why many US airlines have been cutting their service to Cuba.
Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said in November that despite the first half of 2018’s lagging tourism statistics, this year’s numbers are on par to beat 2017’s, topping 4.7 million visitors. Next year, he predicts the amount of visitors to clock in at 5.1 million total.
Collin Laverty, president of US tour group Cuban Educational Travel, told Reuters his bookings were up 25% in 2018. As for the nation’s uptick in tourism, Laverty says: “You can feel it in the streets if you walk around Old Havana.”
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