Cuba tourism rises 16 percent

Tourism to Cuba was up 16 percent in January from the previous year, following the historic rapprochement between the communist island and the United States, officials said Monday.

Visits from Canadians, who made up nearly half of the 371,160 people who traveled here as tourists, were up 15.5 percent from the same time last year, according to Cuba's National Statistics Office (ONE).

But Americans -- the majority of whom are still unable to visit the picturesque island under the rapprochement -- arrived in greater numbers as well, with 75,435 visiting the communist island in January, compared to 66,195 one year earlier.

German, British, French and Italian tourists also led the swell of visitors, ONE said.

In a surprise agreement, US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December that they would normalize ties between their countries after a half-century embargo and diplomatic relations ruptured in 1961.

Under the normalization process, Obama has so far only eased travel restrictions, allowing Americans in 12 categories, including family visits, research, journalism, education, religion or cultural exchange, to visit Cuba without seeking permission first.

Tourism is the second-largest source of income for Cubans following professional services, particularly doctors.

According to ONE, the island passed the three million tourist mark for the first time in 2014, bringing in some $1.89 billion.

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