The President’s actions on Cuba today don’t yet allow for increased tourism, though that’s the next logical step.
Wednesday’s announcement that the U.S. will move toward restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba will also make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business with the Cuban people by extending general licenses, officials said. While the more liberal travel restrictions won’t allow for tourism, they will permit greater American travel to the island.
Here are the current changes to policy:
- The State Department will consider removing Cuba from its list of sponsors of terrorism.
- The US will expand export of goods and services to Cuba, inc;luding construction materials and communications equipment. (Only 5% of Cubans have access to the internet today, that will eventually change.)
- US credit and debit cards will be able to be used in Cuba, and travelers will be permitted to mport up to $400 worth of items (including $100 in alcohol and tobacco). There’ll be a run on Cuban cigars, although I ‘understand’ they aren’t as good as they once were.
- Permitted remittances to Cuban family members will be increased to $2,000 per quarter.
Scott Mayerowitz has an Associated Press piece useful for laying out the volume of existing travel between the US and Cuba. American has the most robust operation already flying 12-14 charter flights a week. JetBlue operates there on a lesser scale predominantly from Fort Lauderdale, and Delta used to fly there but hasn’t in two years.
As far as who can travel there currently, “close relatives of Cubans, academics and people on accredited cultural education programs can visit… [a]bout 170,000 authorized travelers made the trip last year”
For years of course Americans have traveled largely to Mexico but also to Canada and elsewhere as a jumping off point for purchase of separate tickets to Cuba. There have been occasional run-ins with US authorities over this, especially when US financial records show spending dollars in Cuba, but for the most part there’s been lax enforcement.
While Cuba will certainly see a boom in tourism when things open up, much of it will be curiosity factor at first. There’s a whole lot of infrastructure investment that will need to happen before it becomes a world class tourism destination, and there really aren’t top end accommodations presently although as Mayerowitz notes Spanish chain Melia hotels has 26 properties there currently.
I expect that Cuba won’t be an especially good use of miles, as Florida and the Caribbean are not presently most of the time, but being able to travel there freely – eventually, and many now expect (and have expected for some time) – will certainly be a boon to Cubans and to the freedom of Americans.
Here’s a Cuban joke, that today’s changes begin to make obsolete.