by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of international travelers continue to arrive in Cuba as the island sees a gradual recovery of the local tourism industry.
David Garcia, a 22-year-old university student from Spain, who, along with a group of his friends, was on his first visit to the Caribbean nation.
"I have long waited for this moment, but the trip had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic," he told Xinhua while taking snapshots of Havana's Revolution Square.
The Cuban government said that over 689,000 international tourists arrived during the first half of the year.
In Old Havana, the city center, which used to receive more than 60 percent of international tourists before the pandemic, vacationists are back again.
To Canadian tourist Melanie Trembley, the travel was a thrilling family experience with her husband and two adolescent sons.
After staying for one day in Havana, they headed to Cayo Santamaria beach resort in the central province of Villa Clara.
"I want to dance to salsa, taste the flavor of Cuban cuisine, and smoke Cuban premium cigars," she said. "We want to take a break from our daily routine."
The Cuban Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) has projected some 2.5 million arrivals of international tourists by the year's end, down from over 4 million before the COVID-19 emergency.
"So far, we have recovered 1,049 out of the 5,167 rooms included in the annual plan," Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia told legislators. "There is a gradual recovery in the country's fundamental tourist issuing markets."
Meanwhile, local authorities expect thousands of tourists and tour operators to participate in the 2022 nature tourism event scheduled for Sept. 20-24 in the western Cuban provinces of Havana, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of Youth special municipality.
In total, Cuba has over 78,800 hotel rooms in Havana, Matanzas and Villa Clara, according to recent data released by MINTUR.
Furthermore, new hotel facilities are built across the island with infrastructure improvement works in Cayo Largo del Sur, a small key off the southern coast of Cuba.
Havana resident Yenisey Cruz told Xinhua that tourism incomes could help the Cuban economy survive amid the U.S. economic sanctions on the island.
"We need more tourists to visit Cuba," she said. "We could reinvest tourism incomes to buy food in the international market and fund social programs."