Tourism in Cuba soars to record numbers during winter season

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry, but this winter season has brought an record influx of visitors to the island. Plenty more…

Colorful traditional houses in the colonial town of Trinidad in Cuba. Tourism in Cuba has risen to record numbers in the winter of 2015 and is expected to keep rising. (Shutterstock)

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry, but this winter season has brought an record influx of visitors to the island.

Plenty more tour buses can be seen along the Malecón as tourists snap photos of their favorite scenery, including the giant images of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos in Plaza de la Revolución. International visitors were up by a record 16% in January compared to the previous year, according to figures from Cuba’s Office of National Statistics and Information.

This statistic comes after another record-setting year in 2014 when 3.003 million international visitors arrived in Cuba. This figure doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who travel to the island to visit family.

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry but this winter season has brought an influx of visitors to the island.

Tourists take in the sites from a double decker tour bus of Havana. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SEE ALSO: 5 Signs that Cuba is already very much open to Americans

Canada had the most visitors with 181,101 in January, but visitors from the U.S. didn’t even make it into the top 18 international markets for Cuba. Such visitors fell into the “other” category, which at 75,435 visitors, was up 14%.

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry but this winter season has brought an influx of visitors to the island.

Tourists take in the sights as the second round of diplomatic talks between the United States and Cuban officials took place in Washington, DC on February 27, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Since President Barack Obama announced in December that the United States and Cuba planned to renew diplomatic ties and open up limited travel, travelers have had more incentives to travel to Cuba. More relaxed travel rules announced on January 15th  Barack Obama will make it easier for U.S. travelers to make the small leap over the island.

The rush of American tourists is sure to come but not everyone is as excited as you’d think, and we’re not just talking Cuban exiles who see tourism dollars as supportive of the Castro dictatorship.

Canadian travel websites, for example, have been filled with commentary about how now is the time to visit Cuba before it’s overrun by American travelers.

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry but this winter season has brought an influx of visitors to the island.

People walk along the Malecon a day after the second round of diplomatic talks between the United States and Cuban officials. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“For Cuba it sounds like the dawn of a chapter of economic opportunity; though for Canadians it’s more likely sunset on an era of cheap winter vacations,” Tony Ward and John Middleton, Canadian tourism professors, wrote in The Globe and Mail.

The new U.S. rules allow visitors in 12 categories, including educational, research and humanitarian and participants in sporting events and performances, to travel to the island without seeking prior approval from the U.S. government, according to the Miami Herald.

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry but this winter season has brought an influx of visitors to the island.

A poster of Revolutionary hero Che Guevara is seen next to the road. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

These new rules encourage Americans in those categories to engage in purposeful travel rather than spend vacation days lounging around on the beach or planning trip solely for leisure purposes.

SEE ALSO: Conan’s visit to Cuba was more than just comedy

Jardines del Rey didn’t get the memo. Located in the provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila in central Cuba, the sandy archipelago with coral reefs is being developed as a rival to Cuba’s famed Varadero Beach and is having one of the best winter seasons ever.

There are 16 hotels with more than 6,000 rooms on Jardines del Rey, which is where the Cuba’s International Tourism Fair in May will be hosted.

Cuba isn’t exactly known for its booming tourism industry but this winter season has brought an influx of visitors to the island.

Miami-bound passengers have their tickets checked as they prepare to board a charter plane at Jose Marte International Airport on March 1, 2015 in Havana, Cuba.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So far this winter, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, which are part of Jardines del Rey, have been hosting a record 7,000 visitors a day and receiving 40 flights weekly, according to the Cuban National Information Agency reports that

Air China is looking into establishing a direct flight between Beijing and Havana in the fall, according to Ma Kequian, the economic and commercial officer at the Chinese Embassy in Havana.