If you’ve considered visiting Cuba but never have, you may want to confirm your trip sooner than later. The Americans are coming—and that means your choice of travel time, location, and price point may be severely limited.
Since the 2014 rapprochement between Presidents Obama and Castro, American tourism to Cuba has soared by 50 per cent. And hotel rooms big and small are already full to the brim. This crush will only intensify once American and Cuban authorities clinch an agreement to allow direct flights between the two countries—a deal that appears imminent.
Make no mistake: relations between the U.S. and Cuba are nowhere near normalization, and won’t be for years. A 53-year embargo doesn’t evaporate overnight. Cuban-American families who were turfed out of their homes and businesses after Castro’s revolution are not going to give up claims for their losses easily. And Cubans feel they have legitimate claims for redress for a half-century-long embargo that cut them out of a lot of international business.
For Canadians, who comprise over a third of Cuba’s three million annual tourists, the future is pretty easy to predict, and it’s not encouraging. As the Conference Board of Canada has emphasized repeatedly, when Americans enter a tourism marketplace, their impact is huge simply due to the sheer weight of their numbers: prices increase, facilities upgrade, ancillary services expand. All of that drives up costs, and in the international market that travel is, U.S. norms (currency values among them) become the rule.
Given that Cuba is only 90 miles away from Florida at its closest point, it’s only natural that the American market will become the dominant one—and, in fact, anticipation of the American tourist invasion has already made it so. Consider this fact: according to Fortune, 700,000 Americans visited Cuba last year, and the IMF predicts this figure will skyrocket to 10,000,000 once relations are fully normalized. In addition, there appears to be a lack of Canadian economic presence in this island nation that has served as Canada’s chief Caribbean vacation outpost.
In a recent Globe and Mail article by Stephanie Nolen, a researcher for the Centre for Hemispheric and United States Studies at the University Of Havana mused about the lack of Canadian infrastructure companies and interests in Cuba, given that Canada delivers over one million visitors each year. He was quoted as saying Canadian companies could and should take advantage of the fact that they can be here already and know Cuban institutions. He added: “There should be a Tim Hortons in Varadero.” Well, let’s hope not.
The presence, or absence, of a Tim Hortons in Cuba is not likely to encourage or deter Canadian tourism in the future. But prices pegged to American standards and demands may well change that dynamic.
If you’ve ever thought about going to Cuba, you should go. Now.
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