Big jump seen in U.S. travel to Cuba in 2010

Mon Dec 6, 2010 4:23pm EST
 
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - 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 professional travel.

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 expensive route.

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.   Continued...

 
<p>A tourist sunbathes on Havana's seafront boulevard 'El Malecon' November 25, 2010. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan</p>