Havana, CubaVisitor figures for Americans traveling to Cuba in 2012 topped 98,000, up from 73,500 in 2011, according to recent figures released by Cuba's National Statistics Office.

The increase, which is twice the number in 2007, is due in part to the reinstatement of the people-to-people cultural and educational travel programs by the Obama administration in early 2011.

Travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens is permitted by U.S. companies authorized and licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control to offer detailed itineraries and programs geared to the exploration of Cuba's educational and medical systems, arts, history, culture and cuisine combined with close interaction and interchange of Americans with Cubans.

Insight Cuba, for example, has carried more than 8,000 Americans to Cuba under its people-to-people programs since they began in 2000. The Bush administration shut them down in 2003, but Insight jumped back into the program, as have other licensed companies, once President Obama reinstated them in 2011.

Cuba welcomed 2.8 million tourists in 2012; arrivals thus far this year are down 2% from 2012.

Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.

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