What Will An Open Cuba Mean For the Caribbean Travel Industry?

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Above: the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana

By Alexander Britell

MIAMI —What will an open Cuba mean for the rest of the Caribbean tourism industry?

For now, the Caribbean travel industry seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Over the years there has been much discussion about what the impact will be if and when Cuba is open to U.S. visitors,” said Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association President Emil Lee. “CHTA recognizes that there will be challenges for some of our members in competing with Cuba, which basically becomes a new-found destination for American vacationers.”

But Lee said there was another perspective to the prospect of an open Cuba.

“We also see another side with the addition of Cuba as an overall benefit to the regional promotion of the Caribbean which would create more awareness for all our member nations and hotels,” he said.

That would reconcile with a view held by the CHTA and the Caribbean Tourism Organization in recent years that the best way to market the region is to do so together, rather than as a group of individual destinations.

Of course, if and when American travel to Cuba becomes legally equivalent to traveling anywhere else in the Caribbean, there are a number of potential challenges to overcome: how and when will American air carriers begin flights to the island? Will Cuba’s hotel stock be ready for an American influx? What will be the effect on travel agents?

Of course, even with all of these challenges, it’s likely there will be a significant group of American travelers eager to jump into an unknown Cuba, too, no matter the state of the island’s tourist infrastructure.

What that all means is that, when it comes to competing against the rest of the region, Cuba will need some time.

Last year, Cuba received 2.85 million tourists, the second-highest total of any destination in the Caribbean, without access to the American market.

For now though, the answer is that no one can predict the impact the US-Cuba rapprochement will have.

“There will be no shortage of predictions and expectations over the next few months following this historic announcement about easing travel restrictions to Cuba for Americans,” said Jeff Vasser, CEO of the CHTA. “Our role is to embrace all our hotels and allied membership in promoting the welfare of the region,” Vasser said, adding: “Cuba is part of the Caribbean and we expect to assist in the transition to both maximize the benefits and minimize and adverse impact on our membership.”