The Americans are coming: Cuba visitor numbers soar as embargo eases

Posted: 24-Nov-16 10:15

US citizens accounted for the third largest nationality of travellers on the Caribbean island during 2016, with figures expected to increase again over the next 12 months. But there are fears for the island's ecosystem with a rapid rise in visitor numbers.

The Americans are coming: Cuba visitor numbers soar as embargo eases

It seems like everywhere you look right now there’s an article about Cuba. It is one of the world’s fastest growing tourist hotspots, the Caribbean’s ultimate emerging destination, and has long been viewed amongst the most unique and iconic places on Earth.

But what is causing this sudden interest? Put simply, the embargo that has been in place on Cuba, imposed by the US government, has been eased when it comes to both travel and trade with the island.

This means there are now 12 criteria by which American citizens can be allowed to visit Havana and the rest of this culturally isolated nation, which include cultural learning and family ties. Moreover, whilst there they can now buy the famous rum and cigars, which can then be taken home to America.

The decision to make rules more lenient was taken by President Barack Obama, and the impact of this is already visible. According to figures published in a report by Travel Trade Caribbean, by July 2016 136,913 Americans had visited Cuba, up a staggering 79.7% on the same period in 2015, with U.S. residents now accounting for the third largest demographic arriving to explore the many sights of historic, cultural and natural significance this island is famous for.

It is believed that, if current travel restrictions to Cuba were fully removed, some 2 million Americans would arrive annually in the mid-term, increasing to 3 million over a longer period. Given the total number of international visitors was 2,147,919 in the first six months of this year, that growth would be dramatic, driven, at least in part, by arrivals on board cruise ships. Currently, only Adonia, a subsidiary of Carnival, docks at Cuban ports, offering one excursion which falls under the "educational" label on the aforementioned list of 12 approved reasons to visit.

The Caribbean dominates the world cruise market, with a 40% share, and the northerly areas in this island region are the most popular for ships. Cuba lies within this domain, hence experts believing easier access still would undoubtedly open harbours up to large vessels.

Some are concerned about the potential damage this could do to a country that is renowned for environmental conservation and the protection of its wildlife, suggesting decisions may soon have to be made, on the part of Havana, as to how many visitors can be catered for without upsetting the sensitive ecosystems that currently exist. 


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