Cuba Loves Canadians

Though US airlines are cutting back flights to Cuba due to weaker-than-expected demand, hotel and resort facilities remain jammed, prices are soaring, and government tourism authorities are claiming record numbers of visitors (close to 4 million in 2016)—Canadians leading the pack by far, accounting for more than 1 million visitors last year.

Less than a year ago, almost a dozen US airlines filed for US government permission to fly to 10 Cuban locations on a daily basis, hoping to open up the entire island to a broader-based tourism. Their enthusiasm was pumped up by an agreement between the Obama administration and the Cuban government to ease trade relations between the two countries following a 50-year embargo placed by the US.

But demand to most locations—other than Havana—did not keep up with expectations and within six months after launching the new airlift in August, the airlines realized their hopes in the short term were unsustainable—especially given the new US administration’s determination to reassess the recent positive relations with the Castro government.

Despite the reduction of flights originating in the US, Cuban government tourism officials have reported that more than 614,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2016—up 34 percent over the previous year. And that is more than enough to push Cuba to improve its tourism infrastructure—which is crumbling in some places.

For Canadian visitors, who have been the bedrock of Cuban tourism over the past 50 years, the arrival of more and more Americans—many visiting families, and others wanting to see Cuba before it changes—will mean more upward price pressure and more competition for resort rooms and beach chairs.

Also of concern is that necessities such as health care facilities, clinics, and hospitals, though of fair quality, are being forced to acquire more cash to keep up with foreign visitors’ medical care expectations. And this means more demands for payment up front for emergency services provided.

Travel Canada urges the following: “you should purchase the best travel insurance you can afford prior to your departure, as your provincial plan may cover only part of the cost of treatment and may not pay the bill in advance of treatment, which is required by most hospitals. Your insurance should include health, life and disability coverage. Ensure you have sufficient funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and medical evacuation, if required, as some private insurers require you to pay costs up-front and be reimbursed later. Check with your insurance company for payment/reimbursement procedures.”

It also warns: “Cuban authorities will not allow anyone with outstanding medical bills to leave the country. Although proof of Canadian provincial health insurance is sufficient for visitors to enter Cuba, your provincial plan may cover only part of any medical costs incurred in Cuba and it will not pay the bill up-front, which is required at most hospitals…” That’s no way to end a vacation.

You should also be warned to examine your travel insurance policy closely before leaving for Cuba.  If you bought your policy as part of your travel package, read the details to make sure it covers your specific health status. If you have any pre-existing conditions, if you take medication or you have recently visited a doctor or hospital, you may not qualify for a policy excluding pre-existing conditions, and you need to be aware of that.

Also, if you’re counting on your credit card to cover a medical emergency, you must know the terms. Credit cards only offer shorter term coverage, for people up to 55 or 60, and will cover no pre-existing conditions.

Read the terms.


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