US visitors to Cuba surge 93 per cent
THE number of Americans visiting Cuba grew 93 per cent year-on-year in the first four months of this year, the Cuban government said on Wednesday.
The communist island is basking in its newfound glow as a trendy tourist destination since Washington and Havana announced a historic rapprochement in December 2014.
Cuba has welcomed a stream of celebrities and VIPs since then, including United States President Barack Obama, the Pope, the Rolling Stones and German designer Karl Lagerfeld, who presented a Cuban-inspired runway show on Tuesday for French fashion house Chanel.
The US still maintains a trade and financial embargo on Cuba that forbids US citizens from travelling to the island for tourism. But Mr Obama has loosened restrictions to the point that the first US cruise ship in 50 years was able to dock in Havana on Monday.
The Carnival cruise liner circumvented the tourism ban by offering passengers "cultural exchanges", including meetings with artists, musicians and business owners, as well as dance classes and guided tours.
Cuba welcomed 3.5 million tourists from around the world last year, a 17 per cent increase, adding a much-needed US$2.8 billion (S$3.7 billion) to the economy.
Regular flights from the United States to Cuba are expected to begin later this year.