HAVANA (AFP) - Cuba welcomed a record four million tourists in 2016, up 13 per cent over last year, with much of the increase thanks to a crush of visitors from the US and Europe, officials said on Saturday (Dec 31).
Havana's Ministry of Tourism said in a statement published in the Granma official newspaper that the island set a record for international visitors this year, exceeding projections by some 6 per cent.
Tourism is the number two source of revenue on the cash-strapped island, second only to the export of doctors and other medical services.
Officials in Havana say the surge in US visitors is a result of the restored relations with the United States - a thaw first announced by US President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro almost exactly two years ago.
Although a decades-old US economic embargo remains in place, Obama has chipped away at many trade and travel restrictions, easing access to the communist island for many Americans.
The first US cruise ship to come to Cuba in more than 50 years docked in Havana in May. Regular flights between the two countries have resumed.
US companies like Airbnb and Netflix now operate in Cuba, and hotel group Starwood opened a Sheraton in Havana in June.
Nearly 137,000 Americans came to Cuba in the first half of 2016, an 80 per cent surge from the same period in 2015.