* U.S. travel to Cuba up 20 percent in 2010
* Americans join flood of Cuban Americans visiting homeland
* U.S. now second tourism provider despite sanctions
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, June 22 The number of Americans
visiting their country's long-time foe Cuba is steadily
increasing under the Obama administration, according to Cuban
government figures, with the highest number in years likely in
Some 63,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba in 2010, up from
52,500 the previous year and 41,900 in 2008, according to a
report by the National Statistics Office
U.S. citizens are forbidden from traveling to Cuba without
their government's permission under a wide-ranging trade
embargo against the island imposed nearly five decades ago.
In the years following Cuba's 1959 revolution the highest
known number of U.S. visitors peaked at 70,000 under U.S.
President Bill Clinton, then dropped to an average of 30,000 in
the last term of U.S. President George W. Bush.
The 2010 numbers do not include 350,000 Cuban Americans
estimated by travel providers and U.S. diplomats to have come
to the island last year. Because Cuba considers them nationals,
they are not listed in tourism statistics except within the
broader category of "other."
In 2009, Obama gave Cuban Americans a green light to visit
their homeland at will and in January loosened restrictions on
Americans traveling to Cuba for professional, religious and
The combined figures of U.S. travelers and Cuban Americans
made the United States Cuba's second-largest tourism provider
Before the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power,
Cuba used to be an American playground, with hundreds of
thousands of Americans visiting to gamble and have a good
But since the early 1960s, few have made the trip due to a
general travel ban imposed by a U.S. trade embargo against the
LOOSENING OF RESTRICTIONS
The current rise in U.S. visitors is a result of the Obama
administration loosening travel restrictions to Cuba to
encourage more "people to people" contact in hopes of aiding
political change on the communist-ruled island 90 miles (145
km) from Florida.
As well as allowing Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba
freely, Obama also authorized the issuing of licenses to more
Cuba travel providers and allowed more airports to give charter
service between the two countries.
Travel providers report they are swamped, despite delays in
implementing the measures, and forecast more than 100,000
Americans not of Cuban descent will come to the forbidden
island this year.
"In 2010, Marazul sent over 3,500 people to Cuba for
academic, professional, religious and humanitarian reasons, as
well as performing arts and sports groups," said Bob Guild,
vice president of Miami-based Marazul Charters.
"This year, we have already sent close to this number and,
if the new people to people educational licenses begin to be
issued soon by the Treasury Department, we project more than
10,000 people in 2011 traveling through Marazul under the new
revised legal categories, not including people visiting their
families," he said.
Cuba has said it had 2.53 million tourists in 2010 with
Canada the largest provider at nearly 945,000, followed by
Britain at 174,000 and Italy at 112,000.
According to official figures, overall tourism was up 11.3
percent through May, compared with the same period last year.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)