With 58-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel succeeding the retiring Raul Castro as president of Cuba, it's the end of an era. For the first time since 1959, someone not named Castro will be in power.

"This is indeed a changing of the guard," said Tom Popper, president of tour operator Insight Cuba. "Diaz-Canel is part of the younger guard and he is stepping into big shoes. How much he will be running the show remains to be seen. I know from people who know him that he is warm, personable, effusive and someone who embraces new technology. We'll have to see how this translates on the world stage."

Raul Castro is expected to remain as head of the Communist Party "and he will presumably still have his grip on the country and could call the shots," said Popper.

Popper is hopeful that a new leader in Cuba will stir up a resurgence in interest and nostalgia among Americans to travel to Cuba. 

"Castro's stepping down is the end of an era. Curiosity about the future pathway of Cuba, how will it be now and a desire to see all that has happened since 1959 could propel additional tourism from the U.S.," he said.

He views the changing of the guard as an "awesome opportunity for the Trump administration to make an overture to the new leadership."

"Russia and China have been warming up to additional investments in Cuba because they see that the U.S. withdrawal has created a vacuum. Cuba as well has turned to new markets and new investment opportunities. Maybe the current administration will sense missed opportunities," Popper said. "Diplomacy through travel is a positive thing. That's where people-to-people travel speaks volumes."

He was last in Cuba in February, where he saw packed hotels, busy restaurants and lots of tourists, primarily Canadians and Europeans.

The effects of Trump's policies that eliminated solo travel to Cuba, reports of damage from Hurricane Irma and a State Department travel warning in 2017 contributed to a drop in interest in and travel to Cuba.

"It's moving upwards now in leads, web visits and bookings. I am optimistic about the new president, and realistic at the same time," he said.

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