It is too early to tell how travel to Cuba may change for
U.S. visitors, but even before the dust had settled following President Obama’s
order on Dec. 17 to restore diplomatic relations with the island nation,
opinions and speculation have swirled like cigar smoke in the lobby of Havana’s
Operators already offering people-to-people programs
trumpeted their offerings with a caveat to “discover Cuba before it changes
forever. The time is now.” (Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba.)
Some companies currently holding the people-to-people
licenses plan to expand departures and broaden itineraries on existing programs
to accommodate what they hope is an influx of travelers to Cuba.
“We at Friendly Planet will be very busy adding hotel rooms
and plenty of new travel programs to our menu of offerings,” said Peggy
The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association “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,”
according to Emil Lee, the CHTA president.
Lee said he believes the addition of Cuba is an overall
benefit to the regional promotion of the Caribbean.
“This would create more awareness for all our member nations
and hotels,” he said.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization also viewed the change in
diplomatic relations as a welcome opportunity to increase tourist arrivals to
The Caribbean region hosted more than 12 million visitors in
2013, and Cuba accounted for 2.8 million, topped only by the Dominican Republic
with 4.6 million.
Cuba has been an active member of the CTO since 1992, and
the organization anticipates the island’s broader participation in
CTO-organized global and regional events in the future.
“Naturally, an unusually large inflow of new travelers to
the Caribbean will have varying effects on Cuba and the rest of the region,” the
CTO said, adding that it would provide technical resources to manage growth,
reduce dislocation and help create sustainable tourism strategies throughout
its 30 member countries.