Cigar Aficionado reports how Cuba gets ready to receive influx of Americans

Posted: 05-Sep-16 09:21

As relations between the US and Cuba are heading towards normalization, remaining travel bans on American tourism to the island are expected to be removed in the near future. After 50 years of embargo, the country is now preparing to receive this large influx of US visitors, but still faces many infrastructure issues.

Cigar Aficionado reports how Cuba gets ready to receive influx of Americans

Only 90 miles from Miami, Cuba used to be the playground of Americans before the Revolution in 1959. As President Obama and Raul Caustro announced their desire to re-establish diplomatic bonds with each other country after over 50 years of hostility, US citizens are eager to travel to this vibrant Caribbean country once more. While officially American tourism remains banned under the trade embargo, his changes expanded the possibilities for visiting Cuba providing 12 categories of legal entry for Americans.

Cigar Aficionado digital magazine now reports how things have changed for Cuba since this announcement was made, and whether it will be ready in time to receive the great amount of US visitors that would rush in when tourism to the island is permitted. For the moment, those who qualify under the 12 categories of legal travel are already experiencing the island, moved by the idea of “seeing Cuba before it changes”.

From 2014 to 2015, American visitors to the island rose 94 percent. In the first months of 2016, Cuba's Tourism Ministry reports that 94,000 U.S. citizens had already visited the island (for comparison, last year's total number of American tourists was 161,000). Cuban officials expect these numbers to grow. Peter Sanchez, founder and chief executive officer of Cuba Tours and Travel, said to the magazine:

“Ten years from now, Cuba will be among the most popular destinations in the world. Cuba has everything, from thousands of miles of pristine beaches, hundreds of islands in untouched archipelagos surrounded by protected coral reefs, mountains, rivers, rain forests and many beautiful, historic, cosmopolitan cities with deep culture roots and contemporary entertainment and culinary scenes. Tourism in Cuba 10 years from now will be going strong and it will be all over the island—not just the western region.”

However, many are concerned that the conditions have not yet been created to properly receive this alarmingly high number of visitors, a number which will only grow with the introduction of regular flights from the US. Claire Boobbyer, travel expert and blogger told the magazine the many difficulties this could bring along:

“The rise in visitor numbers in general (not just American visitors) has seen hotels booked solid, bed and breakfasts booked out, private restaurants oversubscribed, and car hire prices soar. Parts of Cuba are beginning to look like a theme park—I am thinking of tiny colonial Trinidad, which is currently overwhelmed by visitors.”

At present, the island only counts with 63,000 hotel rooms, but many plans have already been set in motion to make these figures grow significantly. Aside from the rising number of casas particulares (Cuban version of B&B’s), many foreign and local hotel chains and enterprises have invested in restoring and opening new hotels in the island. Gaviota, the state-run tourism company, has plans to add 50,000 hotel rooms by 2020, with Havana as the top priority. Meanwhile American businesses, such as Starwood Hotel and Resorts and Airbnb, are also stepping in to try and close the gaps between supply and demand. Starwood is in the process of opening three hotels in Havana, and just recently opened the Four Points Havana; the first American hotel on the island since the Revolution.

Lodging is not the only concern for Cuba. Experts are also worried about airport safety, the ability of privately owned restaurants (called paladares) to have enough food, water and gas to accommodate the flood of American tourists, as well as lack of Internet access.

Nonetheless, efforts are being made all over the country as there several public Wi-Fi hotspots spread out around the country, and many hotels offer Internet services, including all Melia properties. Concerning airport safety, measures have already been taken to better the conditions of Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport and those of other cities like Santa Clara, where the first direct flight from US to Cuba landed.

However, many foreigners and locals alike share one more worrisome issue: could these transformations lead to making the charming old-feel of Cuban essence fade way? For this reason, all changes must be made with the utmost respect of what makes this country special and unique today. There is a vast amount of work to be done, both in terms of infrastructure and political policy, to take Cuba and America into the next phase of their relationship. Although it will take years for the island to meet all the necessary conditions, many projects have already taken off and seem to promise a bright future.


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