While the impact may not be immediate, yesterday's historic easements in U.S.-Cuba relations are expected to lead to significant changes in tourism to the country, which currently welcomes hundreds of thousands of Canadian travellers each year.
The announcement came yesterday as the two nations moved to re-establish diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility by easing a number of restrictions and policies, with plans for the establishment of a U.S. embassy in the country and the expansion of economic ties. According to a report by The Associated Press, while tourist travel still remains banned, U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba will be further eased for family visits as well as for government and education purposes, which may eventually open the door to American tourism in the country.
While U.S. sun-seekers may not be packing their bags for Havana just yet, the Canadian travel industry is already looking ahead to the potential impact on the market should Cuba's doors be opened for U.S. tourists. Janine Chapman, vice-president of marketing at Sunwing Travel Group said that while the tour operator is "well-positioned" to benefit from the potential influx of American travellers to the country, she cautioned that Canadian travellers may eventually feel the impact from the opening of a new tourism market to the country. The company owns Atlanta-based Vacation Express as well as Blue Diamond Resorts, which already operates 11 resorts and more than 6,000 rooms in its expanding Cuban portfolio which includes brands like Royalton Luxury Resorts, Memories Resorts, and the newly introduced Starfish Resorts.
“Sunwing Travel Group is Cuba’s largest travel provider internationally, sending over 700,000 Canadian vacation customers per year to 10 tourism regions," Chapman said. "It is anticipated that if the embargo is lifted, there would be significant interest from the U.S. market to travel to Cuba. The increasing demand from this new source market could impact Canadian vacationers in the form of reduced availability, particularly in the last minute market.”
This is definitely not the only potential consequence being discussed, as many wonder how pricing will be affected by increased demand, while others speculate how American influence could change the country's authentic tourism offering. To that point, some predict a surge in Canadian visitors to Cuba who hope to see the destination as it is at the moment before this sort of impact could take effect.
Dugald Wells, president & CEO of Cuba Cruise, said in a statement that while there may not be an immediate effect on his company, he certainly anticipates big changes coming to the country's tourism sector.
“We do not anticipate that Wednesday’s breaking news regarding the U.S. and Cuba will have an immediate effect on our business practices and model,” he said in a release. “However, we absolutely foresee an increase in bookings from international travellers who are drawn to Cuba’s incredibly preserved culture, its mix of old and new world charm, and who want to experience the iconic country before it opens its doors any further.”
And with the forecasted influx of travellers, at least one hotel company is already prepared.
Earlier this fall, Gaviota announced the construction of an additional 15,000 hotel rooms across the island in the coming years. In a previous interview with PAX, Gaviota Vice-President of Marketing Frank Oltuski said that the company was at the time anticipating to fill those new rooms with travellers from European markets such as Germany, England, France, Italy and Poland.
The Embassy of Cuba in Canada offered the following message from Senator Pierrette Ringuette, co-chair of the Canada-Cuba Interparliamentry Group:
“As co-chair of the Canada-Cuba Interparliamentry Group, I am pleased with the announcement today of the start of a process of normalization of relations between the United States Government and the Cuban Government after 50 years of the U.S. embargo of Cuba," she said.
"Next year will mark 70 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Cuba and we are happy to have the United States join us by ending the outdated approach of isolation and bringing in a new chapter of cooperation among the nations of the Americas.... While it is important to note that this is not a complete opening of relations, the embargo still stands, it is an important step. Dialogue is always more productive than isolation. The U.S. and Cuba will still have economic and political disagreements, but the door is open to discussion and finally the possibility of mutually beneficial resolution instead of constant confrontation.”