More Americans are going to Cuba, which makes the U.S. the second tourism source for the island nation after Canada, according to a new report. Despite a travel embargo that's been in effect for half a century, 173,550 Americans went to Cuba in January through March.
"The data confirms, although the Cuban government does not recognize it publicly, that the United States, even with the effect of the embargo, is the second greatest source of tourists to Cuba after Canada," Emilio Morales, president of U.S.-based Havana Consulting Group, wrote in a report provided to the Associated Press.
"Most of the U.S. travelers are Cuban-Americans visiting family but others have no ties to the island and travel to participate in academic and cultural programs," the AP reports, noting most flights originate from Miami.
The number of Americans visiting Cuba has been on a steady increase. In 2007, 244,699 Americans went to Cuba. By 2013 that number had more than doubled to almost 600,000. That lags behind Canada, which sent 1.1 million visits to Cuba in 2013. The report also said that the average traveler spends $3,200 per person during their stay.
The report attributes the travel boost to a change in travel restrictions in 2009. Under the George W. Bush administration, Cuban Americans had been limited to visiting the island once every three years. The Obama administration removed the limit and also increased the number of people-to-people cultural tours for non Cuban Americans.
How high could U.S. tourism numbers go? They were on pace to set a record this year, but another obstacle has emerged. In February, Cuba suspended visa services in the U.S. because it couldn't find a bank to handle accounts of its diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C., and New York, media reports said.
"The decision threatened to disrupt a recent surge in travel between the two countries, " Reuters reported.