International News

American Visits to Cuba Are Up 36 Percent Since January

Relations between United States and Cuba haven't been officially restored, but thanks to a thaw in travel restrictions, tourism on the island nation has soared. From January to May of this year American tourism is up 36 percent, while travel from everywhere overall is up 14 percent. 

The numbers were released by the Associated Press after being obtained from Jos√© Luis Perell√≥ Cabrera, a University of Havana economist. 

Between January 1 to May 9, 51,458 Americans visited Cuba. That's up from 37,459 during the same period in 2014. 38,476 of those Americans flew directly from the U.S. to Cuba, up about 9,000 from 2014. However, 12,982 of those tourists still took a route through a third country, but even that number was up 56 percent from the previous year. 

However, while President Barack Obama loosened travel restrictions in January, the U.S. still technically bans its citizens from simply taking a vacation to Cuba for any ol' reason. Formerly, American travelers had to secure licenses on a case-by-case license under a narrow set of criteria. Now, Americans are able to travel to the island without prior approval from the Treasury Department. However, those visits must still follow certain rules. Cuban-Americans, for example, can freely visit family members. Journalists are now freely allowed to visit to cover the island. Other Americans are allowed to go as long as their trip is for educational, cultural, or religious reasons. 

Still, the AP notes that some Americans are going simply for relaxation and curiosity. Booking travel to the island still requires them to say they're going for one of the pre-approved reasons, but it's not that hard to flout the regulations. Though, travelers are required to keep records of their trips for five years. 

How much of the rise in visits can be chalked up to people bending the rules was not determined.