This year could be a banner year for Cuban tourism.
As the Caribbean island continues to court foreign vacationers, the tourism ministry announced that they expect over five million visitors in 2019.
If the island hits their goal, it will be the 12th consecutive year of growth in tourism numbers for the Pearl of the Antilles, with 7.4% growth between 2018 and 2019, said the ministry. Tourism incomes are estimated to exceed 3 billion dollars in Cuba in 2019 , according to the ministry.
Experts say that the expansion of accommodation choices – including five-star hotels in Havana – as well as the increase in competitively priced hotels and casa particulares has resulted in more interest for vacationers. Additionally, in November, Havana will celebrate its 500th year anniversary.
“Five million is realistic,” said John McAuliff, executive director of Fund for Reconciliation and Development, in an email. “Americans are slowly waking up to the reality that they are still free to travel independently under the Support for the Cuban People license.”
Continuing, he said that “the number could go even higher if Congress ends all restrictions on travel by Americans. Under Democratic control, the House could match bipartisan support in the Senate to allow normal travel and agricultural sales.”
The top two tourism markets remain Canada and the United States, although Americans are still prohibited from visiting Cuba for tourism explicitly. (Americans can still travel to Cuba legally under one of these 12 permitted categories.)
Cuba has also launched promotional campaigns recently to attract more travelers from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain as well as emerging markets like China, Vietnam and South Africa.
Although regulations dictate that Americans are not allowed to go on a ‘typical’ beach vacation while exploring the country, Steve Powers, owner of Hidden Treasure Tours in Long Beach, New York, said during last month’s New York Times Travel Show that traveling to Cuba legally remains a great deal as compared to the rest of the Caribbean, thanks to cheap, commercial flights from the US.
In 2018, the island welcomed 4.78 million visitors with less than one million of those travelers arriving by cruise ship.