By Raquel Martori.
Amid huge challenges and after surpassing 3.5 million tourist arrivals last year, Cuba expects a record number of visitors in 2016, particularly from the United States, with their trips made easier by regular flights and ferry service.
The number of tourists from the United States increased by almost 75 percent in 2015 over 2014, with more than 147,000 visitors tempted to visit "the forbidden island," thanks to the relaxation of travel restrictions by President Barack Obama.
As part of the normalization of bilateral relations, the U.S. Congress could lift the ban on travel by U.S. citizens and tourists to Cuba this year, a move that some analysts say could unleash a throng of 3 million U.S. visitors in the first year alone.
The resumption of regular commercial flights between Cuba and the United States after a decades-long hiatus is one of the first outcomes of the "thaw" in relations, and they could resume by mid-year, generating more trips, which are currently possible only with charter flights.
Several U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, United and JetBlue, have expressed interest in operating direct flights to the island once the agreement takes effect, and the U.S. State Department has estimated that this could lead to about 110 new flights to the island.
In 2015, the number of foreign tourists increased by 17.8 percent, with most of them coming from Canada, Britain and France, and as the cruise season that runs from December to April starts, at least 14 big ships will make a total of 90 port visits.
Cruise ships are expected to bring in about 600,000 visitors, according to estimates by University of Havana School of Tourism professor Jose Luis Perello, including the 1,750 tourists who arrived in the capital recently aboard MSC Opera, the largest cruise ship to ever drop anchor in Cuban waters. EFE