Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

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 Hotel Nacional.

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 Goldman, president.

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.

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.

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