As I write this, the first US regularly-scheduled commercial passenger jet to fly to Cuba in more than 50 years has just taken off from Fort Lauderdale.
So far, 6 U.S. airlines have been approved for flights to 9 Cuban cities under an agreement signed in February that would ultimately allow up to 10 airlines to fly daily into 10 Cuban airports—up to 20 a day into Havana. The flights will also originate in airports across the US, including Chicago, Dallas, New Jersey, New York, Houston, D.C. and several in Florida as well as other locations.
Up to now, American residents have been able to fly into Cuba only on charters—most of them originating in Florida—and only after getting special authorizations from US government agencies, and going through rigorous baggage checks.
Under the new agreement, tourism won’t technically be permitted, and passengers will have to fit into certain travel categories defined by the US government (e.g. attending workshops, visiting family, educational programs, athletic or religious events, and people-to people travel). In order to fit into one of these categories, passenger will simply have to check off trip purpose boxes on a pre-boarding card.
Prior to the easing of the embargo on trade and tourism to Cuba, approximately 160,000 Americans travelled to Cuba last year, according to travel industry surveys. Compared to the more than one million Canadians who visit Cuba each year, according to Statistics Canada, that’s small potatoes.
But, as the Conference Board of Canada has projected, when Americans enter a tourism market in a big way, they change the economic dynamics of that destination markedly. What that will likely mean is higher prices, greater demands for upgraded (and costlier) services, more intense competition for hotel, resort and restaurant space, bigger tips for beach chairs.
In addition to the air-lift already-begun, the first U.S.-based cruise ships have also begun calling on Cuba and the response of passengers has been overwhelmingly positive. The world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival, headquartered in Miami, is just a little over 100 miles from Cuban ports.
As the CBoC has noted, many travel indices in the Americas are based on US demand and US currency values. As they strengthen, so do the local prices serving non-U.S. customers. If you’re planning a vacation to Cuba this coming winter season, you search well for early-bird bargains, and nail down your reservation prices and accommodations details soon.
Cuba’s tourism facilities—hotels, resorts, restaurants, and land tour services are already close to, or over capacity. The arrival of the Americans —even if it grows gradually—will only exacerbate that.
And if you do get the vacation package you want, be prepared to rub shoulders with new neighbours, from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, as well as those from Peterborough, Medicine Hat and Montreal.
Are you planning to fly south this winter? Check out your insurance options here.