WASHINGTON -- The number of U.S. travelers to Cuba increased 47% to
82,000 visitors in 1999, compared with 55,900 in 1998, according to
statistics from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign
Eased entry restrictions for students, athletes, artists and
other groups, plus additional charter flights from U.S. gateways
last year for people visiting relatives in Cuba, helped account for
However, the overall number of U.S. visitors is probably much
higher, because many take flights to Cuba through other countries
such as Canada, Mexico, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
In fact, Cuban officials estimate that 160,000 Americans visited
the country last year.
The trend continues this year, as indicated by recent figures
released by the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Overall tourism numbers show that Cuba received more than
510,000 total visitors from January through March of this year, up
1.7% over the same period last year.
By comparison, the highest visitor count was recorded by the
Bahamas: 525,980 visitors in the first four months of this year,
down 2.9% over the same period last year.
Although Cuba has no cruise traffic to boost its arrival figures
further, that, too, will soon change.
Blyth & Co. Travel in Toronto, in conjunction with Cuba
Cruise Corp., plans to introduce cruises on the 400-passenger La
Habana on Nov. 16.
The twice-weekly cruises will ply the route between Nassau and
Havana on a year-round schedule.
Sam Blyth, president, said the first several departures are sold
out and "98% of the passengers are American."
Blyth said although the cruises currently are not available for
sale by U.S. agents, he is hopeful that this situation will
The cruise program offers U.S. citizens "a legal means for
traveling to Cuba," he said.
The program takes advantage of a U.S. law that allows American
citizens not formally licensed to travel to Cuba to visit the
country, provided they observe certain requirements, including not
spending any money while in the country.