The number of tourists visiting Cuba has risen 17 per cent since the restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana after a 50-year hiatus.

The figures released by the Cuban Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, show that the thaw in relations between the communist country and the United States has given the Cuban tourism industry an expected boost.

Marrero said 2.2 million people travelled to the Caribbean country during the first half of the year, a 17 per cent increase on the same period last year. Canada, Britain, Spain, Mexico, France and Italy were the top origins of tourists to Cuba.

He said there was a growing demand for training in the service industry and that a development strategy to further boost visitor numbers included the construction of new hotels and maintenance of others, according to ACN, the Cuban news agency.


"We know there are many things to do, but we are going in the right direction, gradually giving response to the demand," Marrero said.

Sarah Bradley, the managing director of Journey Latin America, which specialises in Cuba, said there was "a tremendous appetite" for holidays to the country, with bookings increasing three-fold this year on last.

"The rise in visitor numbers is a welcome development for Cuba and its tourism industry, although the speed of change has undoubtedly put a strain on resources in some areas and finding availability to meet demand is not always easy," Bradley said.

"That said, Cuba has always been a vibrant, welcoming country of hard-working and resourceful people and they are responding creatively to the challenges.

"Private enterprise is slowly increasing, so whilst casas particulares [home stays] offer an alternative to traditional hotels, increased quality and choice in food is provided by the growth in locally run restaurants or paladares."

Amid concerns that the country could become more "westernised" as its borders open and therefore lose its travel appeal, Bradley said: "These are positive and exciting times for Cuba. It's a destination with a wealth of political and natural history, together with a unique culture. So far, there's no sign of that changing."