Outside Havana, Cubans are still waiting for American visitors
By Sarah Marsh and Jeffrey Dastin
HOLGUIN/SANTA CLARA, Cuba, Sept 9 (Reuters) - U.S. visitors and their dollars are flooding into Havana as airlines and hotels take advantage of the thaw in relations between the Cold War antagonists, but in the provinces outside the Cuban capital, the promised tourism boom is more rumor than fact.
"We see little results here," said Ubaldo Diaz, who runs a bed and breakfast in the eastern Cuban city of Holguin. Diaz said he used all his savings to spruce up his house so he could rent out two rooms to tourists visiting Cuba's fourth-largest city.
"I've had guests from all over the world but none from the United States so far. If we did have more U.S. tourists, I could probably rent rooms easier," Diaz said in a recent interview.
The numbers of U.S. travelers to Cuba are growing, but from a low level compared to other Caribbean destinations.
U.S. law still bans Americans from going to Cuba as ordinary tourists, although for years there have been exceptions for Cuban-Americans visiting family, or for people on educational or cultural visits, for example. U.S. President Barack Obama has made it easier for travelers in those categories to visit since he and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to start restoring relations in December 2014.
The number of U.S. tourists to the Communist-ruled island shot up 77 percent to 161,233 in 2015 from the previous year, with visitors rising again this year, the Cuban government has said. New scheduled flights from the United States to Cuba that started on Aug. 31 are expected to help. Before those services, air travel between the United States and Cuba was by chartered flights.
Still, the numbers of U.S. visitors to Cuba pale in comparison with travel to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, which received 2.0 million and 1.3 million U.S. tourists, respectively, last year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.