Could American tourists destroy Cuban culture?

Posted: 06-May-16 11:19

As the U.S. continues to ease up on travel restrictions to Cuba, some question what an influx of American travellers could mean for the island nation. A writer for Fox News Travel describes the fears of "Americanisation", ranging from hotel chains replacing historic sites to cruise ships and commercial airlines filled with travellers racing to get to Cuba.

Could American tourists destroy Cuban culture?

In describing a fictitious, yet potentially realistic, view of Cuba in the future, a Fox News Travel writer contemplates the vulnerable nature of a country he ponders could become overexposed to American businesses and culture at a rapid pace. In the 19th April article, “Will American tourists ruin Cuba?”, writer Sid Lipsey lays out the concerns; ranging from tourist-friendly American chains like Senor Frog’s replacing centuries-old landmarks to the hotel giant Marriott placing its sign in the abode once frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

Lipsey quotes travel records showing that 161,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2015, up 77-percent from 2014. He predicts many of those travellers are going to see the country now before chain stores and theme restaurants take over. Others he spoke with seem to agree.

New York-based marketing expert Manny Gonzalez often travels to the country on business. He tells Lipsey a lot of people he knows are asking him for travel tips.

“The usual inclination is, ‘Well, I gotta go before things change,’ before there’s a McDonald’s and Starbucks on every corner.”

It is true that some U.S.-based businesses are quickly pushing their way into the travel market, including Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which recently became the first American-owned hotel company authorised to do business in Cuba in decades. Various U.S. cruise lines and airlines are also making plans for regular commercial trips to Cuba. They join Airbnb, which has seen listings in Cuba quadruple since providing service there last year. The author then theorises that the pace of American companies moving in raises valid concerns.

Hugh Riley, secretary general and chief executive officer of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, told Lipsey,

“When visitors arrive and they stay and they invest and buy property, they bring with them elements of their own culture.”

Here, Lipsey takes the opportunity to question why a cultural invasion hasn’t already happened. After all, he reminds, holidaymakers have flocked to Cuba for decades. Even with a U.S. travel embargo in place, he says the country has remained the second most popular place for visitors to go in the Caribbean. In addition, he notes, some Americans have illegally travelled to Cuba prior to the relaxation of rules.

To support this, Lipsey writes that Texan Rikki Rincon, a frequent traveller to Cuba, tells him,

“The Cubans are already used to the tourism, and used to Americans.”

The author uses this opportunity to point out that black-market American TV shows and movies have already made their way to Cuba. As well, he mentions, Cubans love the game of baseball, two areas he says may support the possibility that American culture can intermingle with Cuba’s without overpowering it.

Lipsey was told by Gonzalez, “Cubans are ready to embrace Americans and American culture, but they are not going to sacrifice their own heritage and history.”

The author adds to this that the Cuban government passed a law in 2014 that requires foreign investors to be aware of protecting natural resources and the environment. On top of this, he says, the Office of the City Historian of Havana has received positive acclaim internationally for work in preserving the country’s architectural legacy, and they’re not about to let anyone interfere and change the original colonial layout and historic character of protected areas in any way that could detract from its aestheticism and old world appeal, and certainly not in favour of modern American food franchises.


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