Big jump seen in U.S. travel to Cuba in 2010
By Marc Frank
updated 12/6/2010 1:20:18 PM ET 2010-12-06T18:20:18
HAVANA — More than 1,000 travelers from the United States are arriving
every day in Cuba on average, most of Cuban origin, making Havana's
long-time foe its second source of visitors after Canada, travel
industry and diplomatic sources said Monday.
U.S. charter companies flying to the Communist-ruled island say business
has boomed since President Barack Obama's administration lifted
restrictions last year on Cuban-Americans visiting their homeland, and
also loosened curbs on academic, religious, cultural and other
U.S. citizens are forbidden from traveling to Cuba without their
government's permission under a wide-ranging U.S. trade embargo on the
island imposed nearly five decades ago.
"There is a huge increase this year compared with 2009," said Armando
Garcia, president of Marazul Charters, the oldest of a growing number of
companies chartering flights to Cuba.
"Through October around 265,000 have traveled. November and December are
the peak months, so we expect 330,000 will go to Cuba on direct flights
from the United States this year," Garcia said, speaking in a telephone
interview from Miami.
Cuban tourism industry sources said more and more U.S. citizens or
Cuba-bound travelers from the United States were also arriving through
third countries such as Mexico and the Bahamas to get around the U.S.
travel ban, avoid licensing hassles, or simply because it is the less
There are no regular scheduled commercial flights between Cuba and the
United States which lie less than an hour's flight apart, separated by
the Florida Straits.
"We estimate the total (visitors from the U.S. to Cuba) for the year
will be more than 400,000," a U.S. State Department source said, asking
his name not be used due to restrictions on talking with journalists.
HAVANA AIRPORT EXPANSION
Cuba reported 2.4 million tourists arrived in 2009, with Canada the
largest provider at close to 915,000, followed by Great Britain at
172,000 and Spain at 129,000.
The Cuban National Statistics Office (http://www.one.cu) reported that
Canadian arrivals through October of this year had increased, while
there was little change from Great Britain and a significant drop in
Cuba reported 52,455 arrivals from the United States in 2009, but those
of Cuban origin were included under a wide separate category of "other."
Local tourism officials said 80,000 U.S. citizens came in 2008,
The official trade union weekly, Trabajadores, ran a front page article
Monday on the expansion of the Havana airport terminal that receives
U.S. flights, saying it would be completed by this Christmas and double
Marazul's Garcia estimated U.S. travel to Cuba would increase another 30
percent in 2011.
Legislation that would have lifted entirely U.S. restrictions on travel
to Cuba died in Congress this year. Such initiatives will have even less
chance of passage when a new Congress convenes in January, following the
Republican Party's success in the November mid-term elections.
Cuban-American Republican members of Congress are fierce and vocal
opponents of opening up more U.S. travel to Cuba, saying there should be
no relaxation without political change and human rights improvements on
Advocates of more freedom to travel to Cuba hope the Obama
administration will at least further loosen remaining restrictions,
opening up more so-called 'people to people' contact visits that would
favor sports, cultural, artistic, academic and religious exchanges.