Will Cuba steal all the Caribbean tourists?

Posted: 30-Jan-15 18:05

Cuba is now a hot new destination for US holidaymakers, now that they will soon be legally allowed to visit the island. There are concerns that Americans' new-found freedom will have a negative impact on the rest of the Caribbean, but where do these come from, and how would they avoid it? We look at the various reasons Cuba will benefit from the trade embargo and how it will affect its neighbours.

Will Cuba steal all the Caribbean tourists?

Cuba is now a hot ticket for American holidaymakers, thanks to the historic joint US-Cuban announcement of normalised relations. But because the trade embargo hasn't been fully lifted, the online searches are more fact-finding missions than anything else. Right now it's impossible to connect the dots and buy a package holiday off the shelf if you're a US resident – but Cuba has been a unique combination of a political hot potato and forbidden fruit. Now that it's cooling off, it's an even more tantalising prospect.

There's concern, however, that a shiny new island to visit will leave its neighbours gathering dust – but are those fears justified?

Bert Wilkinson of New York's Amsterdam Times wrote at the beginning of the year that:

"…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."

He continue citing studies claiming that:

"...the opening of Cuba to U.S. tourism would represent a seismic shift in the Caribbean's tourism industry."

In this NBC News article, travel expert Arthur Frommer thinks that the novelty will "obviously cut into a certain amount of traffic". Even the Caribbean Trade Organization thinks "the more, the merrier".

Any negative impact on the rest of the Caribbean would mainly come from established destinations not moving with times and exploring other USPs – after all, every island can offer beaches and sun, but will have to strive even harder to play up their unique qualities.

Cuba's poor infrastructure for both tourists and residents is not regarded as being able to cope with the rise in tourists – and even some the best hotels on the island offer the creature comforts taken for granted elsewhere.

At present, numbers are just about manageable, but could double when the Americans come to town (at least before tailing off). When numbers rise, prices drop, which is great news for tourists – but they'll need to have somewhere to stay.

It's worth noting that as the embargo is being rolled back at quite tentative stages at present, the overall impact is softened. Put simply, it's not happening instantly; changes can be assessed and implemented gradually.

As long as Jamaica, Puerto Rico and others remain stable, Cuba won't have to deal with a sudden influx of visitors any more than its Caribbean neighbours will wonder where they've all gone overnight.


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