HAVANA – 40,500 Americans visited Cuba in 2007, and officials from the two shores of the Strait are predicting that the number could double if travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans, US academics, and cultural exchanges are lifted as President Obama promised during his election campaign, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

In an article entitled, Cuba aims to become a tourist magnet, David Adams, Times Latin America Correspondent, noted that the Cuban government, though aware of the advantages of the measure, is neither holding its breath nor crossing its fingers in expectation. “Our philosophy is not to be surprised if it happens, but not to wait for it to happen in order to continue constructing new hotels,” the daily quoted Miguel Figueras, a senior tourism ministry adviser.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Cuban tourism authorities are hoping that “with a new president, the American boats will start coming back” to berth at the Marina Hemingway resort, west of Havana, host of the annual Ernest Hemingway Billfishing Tournament. Figueras told the paper that, in 1999, fifty out of a total of eighty boats competing that year came from the States.

The island closed 2008 with a record arrival of 2.35 million tourists, a 9.3 percent increase in comparison to 2007, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain accounting for a 9 percent growth. Local tourism officials are anticipating that 2009 would register 2.5 million tourists.