Cubans Head to Resorts Before U.S. Influx

The streets of Varadero, Cuba’s leading beach resort, have been a longtime favorite of foreigners, but now they’re filled mainly with Cubans.

Varadero is one of several Cuban vacation areas to see this change, which is instigated by Cubans wanting to enjoy them before an even greater influx of U.S. visitors.

Some 1.2 million Cuban residents stayed in tourist hotels last year, a 23 percent increase from 2013. The Cuban government has reported another increase this year, without providing figures. Governmental restrictions prohibited Cubans from staying in tourist hotels until 2008.

Many Cuban travelers are using money from relatives, particularly those in the United States, to afford the costs. Plenty of Cubans are staying in some of the top, rather than standard, properties. Melia Hotels International, a Spanish hotel chain that is Cuba’s most important tourism partner, reports that this year 80,000 Cubans have stayed at Melia properties on the island, a 35 percent rise from this time last year. Melia has seen an average annual increase of 32 percent since 2009.

Varadero is a particularly desirable spot due to its all-inclusive hotel and spa complexes, fine white sand, turquoise waters golf course and many other attractions. The beach resort, about 100 miles east of Havana, is too expensive for most Cubans, with the average state salary at around $24 per month. Some hotels offer discounts to locals during slow international tourism periods, however.

A record 3 million international tourists visited Cuba last year, a 17 percent increase from 2013. Much of this growth can be attributed to Americans: They are coming in much larger numbers and tourism industry experts predict that 150,000 of them will visit Cuba by the end of the year, a 39 percent increase from 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama has eased restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba, such as allowing direct flights, cruise ships and ferry service providing travelers have an educational propose. Republicans are blocking legislation that would lift a travel ban, but the Obama administration seems intent on weakening restrictions. The administration restored diplomatic ties with Cuba on July 1.

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