In the year 2014, Canadians took well over a million leisure/vacation trips to Cuba—more than any other national group by far, accounting for well over half of all foreign tourist arrivals. In fact, since January 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro entered Havana to complete his revolution, Canada has been one of Cuba’s most prolific economic supporters—mostly through tourism—while the United States has been its most vocal critic.
But now, 56 years later, and after a strict embargo has left Cuba in an economic time warp, US President Obama has started to normalize relations with Cuba. Many experts and pundits believe it’s only a matter of time before millions of Americans visit and begin doing business with a country most know only through the film The Godfather—Part 2. In the film, ailing mob financier Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) tells Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) about the power they will have by moving operations to Cuba from the US: “If I could only live to live to see it, to be there with you…the goddamn Justice Department and the FBI ninety miles away, in partnership with a friendly government.”
Well, it didn’t turn out that way, but it’s going to take some time to retrofit a normal relationship.
At present, Americans are limited to visiting Cuba only with explicit permission of the federal Treasury Department, and only for approved business purposes, journalism, cultural exchanges, visiting families—in effect, monitored group activities. They can’t just pop over for a weekend, or settle in for a week or two of lying in the sun, drinking rum, or smoking Montecristos. Canadians can, and they do, with relish. But Americans must have a specific, approved purpose for being there, and tourism isn’t it—yet.
But after time, that will change, and Canadians will no longer be the “chosen people”—not when millions of Americans sit just 90 miles away.
Americans and Cubans realize there is an enormous amount of work to do, and money to be spent, to bring Cuban hotels, restaurants, transportation, and financial services up to a standard that American tourists would be willing to pay for. There are currently 64,000 hotel rooms in Cuba—100 per cent full in high season, 85 per cent average over the year. And there are only so many bedrooms and “boutique” restaurants in private houses—many of them in advanced states of decrepitude.
Many American tourists are also champing at the bit to see Cuba as it is right now, before it is whitewashed and overrun by KFC, Burger King, Subway, and Starbucks. But then there are many more anticipating a Cuba with Ritz-Carltons, Four Seasons, and Sandals Resorts. For Canadians, Britons, the French and all other nationals who have been enjoying Cuba as it is and has been for several decades, that will inevitably mean higher prices for all—just as higher water raises all boats.
Stay with us and we’ll keep you updated on the Cuban revival.