Earlier this year we reported here at Expatriate Healthcare that President Obama was seeking to re-establish political ties with Cuba. While the country has long been the unfortunate recipient of both trade and tourism embargoes by the US government, significant changes seem to be afoot.
Possibly the most notable of these changes is that since closer ties began to develop between Cuba and the USA, so tourism has started to increase at an impressive rate. While Cuba has long been a popular Caribbean destination for Russians and Europeans, it seems that now even American tourists are finding it a more welcoming holiday destination.
According to recent figures, Cuba has seen an increase in worldwide tourism of 14% – far ahead of most other countries in the Caribbean. This uptick in tourism isn’t just US-centric – all manner of countries – who have been free to visit Cuba for decades – are suddenly turning their attentions toward this picturesque country.
The figures suggest that arrivals from the UK are up 25% on the same period last year, for example. 22% more Germans and 16% more Spanish have also visited the country since the beginning of the year.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, though, is that 36% more visitors arrived from the US in the first five months of this year. What is interesting is that officially speaking Americans are still prohibited from visiting Cuba for touristic purposes.
US citizens are free to visit Cuba for an assortment of other reasons, though. For example, Americans may pay a visit to the country to visit family or to carry out research. In many cases then, Americans are making use (or mis-use) of self-certification programs, visiting Cuba for sight-seeing purposes, but claiming they are arriving for other reasons.
A second popular alternative, which avoids knowingly lying to the US government, involves Americans visiting Cuba from third-party countries. So, for example, a US citizen may fly down to Mexico, and then hop across the Caribbean Sea to Cuba from here. Doing so helps to avoid any uncomfortable questions.
But why is Cuba enjoying such a surge in visitors at the moment, especially when it has been open to many countries for years?
It seems that the renewed relationship between Cuba and the US, not to mention the more relaxed political regime in Cuba, is encouraging tourists to see the island before it changes. Quite what these changes will be, and how long they will take, remain to be seen.
For now, all we can say with any certainty is that there are a lot of tourists who want to experience “old Havana” as it is now, rather than in a few decades time when capitalism could have robbed it of it’s character.