Would an open Cuba affect Caribbean tourism?


This article by Bert Wilkinson appeared in The Amsterdam News.

When President Barack Obama recently announced plans to normalize relations with hemispheric pariah, Cuba, the attention of leading players in the Caribbean tourism industry immediately turned to the possible impact of the island on regional tourism and whether the sheer novelty of an open Cuba would devastate the wider Caribbean product.

By the time Obama had finished outlining plans to normalize relations after 18 months of astonishingly secret talks, academics were releasing studies that had already predicted not so good news for countries that are members of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The Miami Herald, for example, quoted from a 2011 study by the International Monetary Fund called “The Vacation Is Over,” noting the opening of Cuba to U.S. tourism would represent a seismic shift in the Caribbean’s tourism industry.

But even as those with multimillion-dollar investments in the Caribbean watch with baited breath, experts are divided over what the real impact of 2 to 3 million American visitors, with their vast spending power and geographical nearness, would be on Cuba and whether, in fact, an island overcrowded with overenthusiastic Americans won’t chase non-U.S. visitors to other places, such as Aruba and Jamaica.

Hemispheric expert Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald is one of those who think that Obama’s latest move on Cuba-U.S. relations might yet work in favor of the competing countries.

“Cuba may be a blessing in disguise for Caribbean countries and Mexico,” he said. “An overnight lifting of the travel embargo would have produced an avalanche of U.S. tourists to Cuba that would have crippled Cancun and other Caribbean tourism resorts. But since the flow of U.S. tourists to Cuba will grow gradually, they will have time to prepare themselves for the new reality.”

He also suggests that operators will have little choice but to “re-invent themselves as something more than sun and beach destinations; for instance, building up adventure tourism or medical tourism industries,” and it would be fatal if they just sit around and take no action.

Contrast that with Barbadian Cabinet Minister Richard Sealy, who is the current chair of the CTO. Despite the new buzz about Cuba, Sealy says that “data collected by the CTO’s research department thus far indicate that the Caribbean is moving in the right direction as it relates to cruise visits, long-stay arrivals and tourism spend.” He also suggested that a reduction in a crippling travel ticket tax that Britain had imposed on passengers will help maintain and even grow the number of arrivals to non-Cuba destinations.

Quoting from yet another study, international writer Lorenzo Perez reports up to 3 million Americans could head to Cuba annually in the short to medium term. Travel costs would head downwards, encouraging bulk travel, but the downside is that Cuba’s infrastructure would not be ready to take on an avalanche of tourism from anywhere all at once. Currently, visitors from the U.S., Spain, other European destinations and Canada dominate the tourism landscape in Cuba, but there is every likelihood that many more Americans are headed there, too.

For the original report go to http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2015/jan/05/would-open-cuba-affect-caribbean-tourism/

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