The Changing Tourism Strategies in Cuba and Mexico

Recently, Mexico has undergone a major shift in its official tourism strategy to upgrade (and up-price) mass tourism to that country—Canada’s most favoured vacation destination after the United States.

Now we learn that the US administration has reinstated many of the trade and travel restrictions against Cuba that were relaxed during the Obama years and will also allow Americans (including former Cubans) to sue foreign firms (among them Canadian and European) operating on properties seized by the Castro government on or after the 1959 revolution.

Cuba attracts some one million Canadian visits annually—Mexico just over two million. Between them, they account for almost half of the robust Caribbean, Mexican, and Central American vacation travel market. In both the Cuban and Mexican markets, residents of Britain rank just behind Canada as the most frequent visitors.

The action taken by the Trump administration—intended to punish Cuba for its ongoing support of the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela—will re-impose restrictions on individual travel from the US to Cuba as well as “people to people” cultural visits, will limit remittances to family members in Cuba to $1,000 per person every three months, will suspend the allowance of banking transactions through the US banking system by firms doing business in Cuba, and will restrict companies whose tourism activities are linked to the Cuban armed forces.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has warned that the Trump administration’s actions—especially allowing Americans to sue foreign firms working on properties seized by Cuba—are problematic for Canadian mining firms now in Cuba, as well as for financial services (banks) and tourism companies with operations in that country.

Canada’s foreign affairs department and the European Union have rejected the legitimacy of the US actions against foreign firms operating in Cuba, but proponents of the law—strongly backed by politically powerful former Cubans living in Florida—have warned: “If you are not trafficking in stolen property you have nothing to fear… but if you are, it is going to cost you dearly.”

For Canadians, who have long considered Cuba and Mexico reliable and inexpensive safe havens for one- or two-week sun and sand vacations, it would be wise to monitor developments in those countries and especially to check out Canadian and UK government travel warnings and alerts when anticipating travel plans to those countries.

Also, watch for tour pricing changes, promotions for new tour products (especially in Mexico), and updates on the condition of hotels and resorts that you may have favoured in the past.

To protect your vacation investment, keep your non-refundable deposits as low as you can, consider if you really have to book so many months ahead (occupancy rates in both Mexico and Cuba are relatively relaxed right now), and always cover yourself with trip cancellation insurance in case situations on the ground in either Mexico or Cuba become problematic. If your travel insurer allows “cancellation for any reason” or “change of mind” trip cancellation or interruption options, take them even if it costs a few dollars more.

Remember also that Cuba requires all visitors to have proof of travel medical insurance as a condition of entry. And if you rely only on your government insurance, remember that Cuba will not let you leave the island with any medical bills unpaid or unpledged (usually by approved private insurers). In this case, government insurance just won’t do.

The issue is one of vigilance. What was once routine is that no longer.

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