Cuba: the world's new premier destination for business and pleasure

Posted: 28-Jan-15 18:05

Canada has quietly established a more prominent tourist and business presence in Cuba, and for years it's been offering direct flights and holiday packages. That gives it a head start over the US, but a combination of reasons means it hasn't capitalised on it as yet. Cuba is the place to watch for 2015 in business terms, but the UK also has its part to play. What does that mean for British tourists going to Cuba?

Cuba: the world's new premier destination for business and pleasure

Barack Obama recently called for a 'new approach' to trade rules between America and Cuba, and the world has definitely sat up to pay attention. The US is now busy planning new flight routes, establishing a firmer business presence, and furnishing travel sites with non-transactional flights and hotel information.

With the news focused on America, it's easy to forget that Canada and the UK (its two biggest sources of tourist visitors) didn't break off diplomatic relations. Canada has quietly established a more prominent tourist and business presence on the island; for years it's been offering flights and packages to Cuba (through the likes of Sunwing).

A combination of Cuba's own reticence to be invested in, and the restrictive US-Cuba rules, has made Canada tread very carefully. Now that relations are becoming more cordial, Canada can make the most of its head start. It's clear that Cuba is the place to watch for 2015 on the business front, but what does that mean for UK-based travellers?

For starters, the UK government rules haven't changed: get a tourist card and check your passport validity; check if you need to have vaccinations, change your sterling to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) when you get there.

At present, the popular Varadero Beach resort is the place to go for a classic sun, sea and sand family holiday or romantic getaway, thanks to its well-run resorts and stunning beaches. The Cayos Cocos (or Jardines del Rey), strung along the north coast of the island like emeralds, is an unspoiled paradise and ideal for nature-watchers.

There's more to Cuba than sunning and cigars, though; the pretty town of Guardalavaca (or 'guard the cow' in Spanish) is renowned for its still-authentic charm, and isn't as crowded as Varadero. A short and scenic drive away from Guardalavaca, near the Bahia de Naranjo National Park, is the idyllic bay of Playa Esmeralda.

UNESCO World Heritage site Havana is famous for its culture, coastline and Spanish colonial architecture. Trinidad, while beautiful, is more of a museum in comparison, being a relic of Cuba's old sugar industry prosperity. There's a sense of Cuba's immense potential once it accepts foreign investment, but also of wanting it to retain the time-capsule beauty it trades on.

There are fears that Cuba will lose some its bygone era charm once businesses start up there in earnest, and new hotels pop up on the beachfront in increasing regularity, but it remains to be seen. Home to plenty of areas of jaw-dropping natural beauty, Cuba wisely has protecting and conserving nature written into policy. One positive outcome is that the number of high-quality rooms will increase, opening the doors for even more affluent visitors – and an upswing in quality and choice overall.

UK operators offer tours around the island's most fascinating spots, where their American counterparts are still awaiting the thumbs-up – and officially can't visit purely as tourists yet. While the world watches with interest how US-Cuba relations develop over time, the Canadians and the British have the upper hand for now when it comes to exploring the island freely.


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