Tourists Flocking To See Cuba 'Before the Americans Come'

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Image:
In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo, tourists look for souvenirs at a shop also selling postcards and books on Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in Trinidad, southern Cuba. Already this year, more foreigners are roaming Cuba's cobble stoned streets. The country saw a 16 percent increase in visitors in January compared with a year earlier.Enric Martí / AP

Tour operators are seeing dramatic jumps in the number of bookings to Cuba as tourists say they want to see the island before it becomes more "American" due to the increased thawing of relations with the U.S.

One New York tour operator said bookings were up by 187 percent and up 250 percent so far this month.

"It's a huge surge," said InsightCuba company president Tom Popper. "Word's gotten out and people are communicating that they want to go before Cuba changes."

The sense that improved Cuba-U.S. relations will make the communist island less "authentic" was shared by some tourists interviewed in Cuba by the Associated Press.

"Cuba has a very authentic atmosphere which you see nowhere else in the world," said Gay Ben Aharon of Israel while walking through Revolution Square. "I wanted to see it before the American world ... but also the modern Western world comes here."

In January Cuba had seen a 16 percent increase in visitors compared to last year. A record 3 million people visited Cuba in 2014.

About 600,000 U.S. travelers are estimated to visit Cuba each year, island officials estimate this number would increase to 1.5m if all restrictions were removed, supplanting Canada as the number 1 tourism source and potentially $2 billion a year to Cuba's coffers.

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--The Associated Press

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