Sitting on a bench in Havana's Central Park on Saturday, Italian tourist Mateo Ricci was waiting for a bus to Varadero, Cuba's most popular seaside resort.
The 32-year-old was eager to participate in the 2022 International Varadero Half Marathon, scheduled to take place on Sunday, which will involve more than 2,000 runners.
"We are not professional runners, but we want to enjoy the atmosphere," he told Xinhua. "Sports, pure air, sun, and beach are a perfect combination."
The marathon is part of the Cuban government's efforts to boost tourist activity across the country before the high season ends in April.
Located in the western province of Matanzas, about 140 km east of Havana, Varadero has seen an increase in hotel bookings over the past few months.
New construction projects in the area include a boulevard, shops, and a replica of Havana's famous Floridita bar-restaurant, which is partly inspired by late American Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway, a resident of Cuba for almost 20 years.
Varadero resident Maria Varona, 42, told Xinhua that the increase in tourist numbers will help revitalize the local economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S.-led economic sanctions on the island.
"The more tourists visit the country, the better the economy will perform," she said. "Tourists bring hard currencies. Everybody is happy when they are around."
Meanwhile, Varadero's 43 hotels with 17,000 rooms are also gearing up to host Cuba's 2022 International Tourism Fair in May.
Ivis Fernandez, tourism delegate for Matanzas, said that tourists have been arriving in Varadero as expected since the start of the high season on Nov. 15 last year.
"We have seen a growth in the number of tourist arrivals from Canada, which is our main issuing market," she said. "As to Europe, we are receiving visitors from Germany, England, Spain, Belgium, Poland, and Italy, who are very familiar with this destination."
Varadero receives more than 40 percent of the international tourists arriving in Cuba, the tourism ministry said.
At present, the provincial government of Matanzas is taking steps to improve digital connectivity in Varadero as maintenance and other construction projects continue in the area.
Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines said that local authorities are working hard so that national and international tourists feel more comfortable in Varadero.
"We are committed to increasing tourism flows. If the tourism industry grows, economic activity will strengthen," he told Cuban state TV.
The Caribbean nation, which received nearly 500,000 international visitors in 2021, is projected to welcome 2.5 million vacationers this year, according to official estimates.
On Saturday, Cuba registered 957 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death, bringing the total number of cases to 1,086,361 and the national death toll to 8,509.