Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stunning 36 percent rise in US visits to Cuba since January

Stunning 36 percent rise in US visits to Cuba since January
AP Travel Editor

The thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba has led to a stunning 36
percent increase in visits by Americans to the island, including
thousands who are flying into Cuba from third countries like Mexico in
order to sidestep U.S. restrictions on tourism.

The dramatic rise was seen in the number of Americans with no family
ties to Cuba who visited between Jan. 1 and May 9 of this year compared
to the same period in 2014, according to statistics provided to The
Associated Press by a University of Havana professor.

In addition to the boom in American visitors, Cuba has seen a 14 percent
jump in arrivals from around the world between January and early May
compared to the same period last year.



From Jan. 1 to May 9, 51,458 Americans visited Cuba, compared to 37,459
over that period last year, according to new statistics provided
exclusively to The Associated Press by Jose Luis Perello Cabrera, an
economist in the University of Havana's tourism studies department with
access to official figures. The figures also included revealing details
on the thousands of Americans who are entering Cuba through third
countries, many to sidestep U.S. restrictions on tourism.

There were 38,476 visitors who flew directly from the U.S. to Cuba,
compared to 29,213 in the same period last year.

Another 12,982 Americans came in via third countries, a whopping 57
percent increase over the 8,246 Americans who flew to Cuba from
elsewhere in the same period last year.

Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are the top choices
for Americans entering Cuba from non-U.S. points, Perello said.

David Perez, a New Yorker who works in public relations, traveled to
Cuba in May through Cancun. "I had just always wanted to go to Cuba and
I decided now was the time," he said.

Cuba also has seen a 14 percent rise in overall tourism. Arrivals from
206 counties from Jan. 1 to May 9 rose from 1,349,903 last year to
1,547,104 this year. Visitors from Germany were up 22 percent; France,
25 percent; the United Kingdom, 26 percent and Spain 16 percent.



Travel to Cuba "for tourist activities continues to be prohibited," said
Hagar Chemali, a spokesperson for the U.S. Treasury Department, which
publishes the rules on Cuba travel. But in January, after President
Barack Obama announced detente with Cuba's communist government, "we
eased the travel regulations," Chemali said.

The new rules make it easier to get the necessary paperwork, and that
has led some Americans to flout the restrictions. While many Americans
still travel with expensive, organized "people to people" tours that are
approved by the U.S. government, it's not uncommon to encounter
Americans who have traveled to Cuba independently to drink mojitos and
head to the beach.

Charter companies flying travelers from the U.S. to Cuba say travelers
now need only "self-certify" that their trip falls under a permitted
category. "The person calling us needs to tell me, 'I'm going in support
of the Cuban people, or professional research, or a family visit,'" or
any one of the 12 allowed categories, said Tessie Aral of ABC Charters.
After that, "all they do is sign a certification."

The federal register states that travelers "must retain specific records
related to the authorized travel transactions" for five years, but what
those records consist of is not spelled out, and Aral said travel
providers are not required to review travelers' itineraries or receipts.



Bob Guild of Marazul Tours, another charter company, worries that some
travelers may be viewing the process of planning a trip to Cuba too
casually by claiming that they're going for a sanctioned purpose when in
fact they are going on vacation.

But Guild acknowledges that "there's a disconnect" between what's on
paper and what's happening. "It's a foggy land right now," he said.

Attorney Robert Muse, an expert on the legal aspects of Cuba travel,
says "there's been almost no active enforcement" of the tourism ban
under the Obama administration. He added that the increase in U.S.
visitors to Cuba is "what the Obama administration wants. ... They favor
engagement. That's why they take this liberalized approach to travel."

The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment, but
Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero recently said visitors were up by 30
percent and that Cuba was willing to accept the increase.

As for those rushing to see Cuba "before it changes," Muse said, they
think that in the future "there are going to be Burger Kings on every
corner. That's not going to happen, but people still want to see the end
of revolutionary Cuba."

Source: Stunning 36 percent rise in US visits to Cuba since January |
Miami Herald Miami Herald -

No comments:

Post a Comment