This week President Obama announced plans to re-establish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US after 50 years of the “silent treatment” by re-opening the US embassy in Havana. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” spoke Obama at a press conference on Wednesday. "These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach."
The decision came after 18 months of secret discussions and Cuba’s release of Alan Gross, a detained US aid contractor. As talks continue, Obama has said he will talk to Congress about lifting the embargo on Cuba which has been in place since 1961 when Fidel Castro and communist rebels overthrew Dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Both Republicans and some Democrats are pushing back on the decision, as well as many Americans who are concerned about the ramifications of such a resolution. Much of the dispute involves questioning how much we are giving and how little we are getting back. As the national debate has ensued, for our purposes, we’re mainly looking toward what this verdict means for travel (whether right or wrong).
So what does this mean? Well, a lot. But in simple terms, aside from opening the embassy, limits on travel by Americans to the Caribbean country will be lifted, we'll be able to use our debit and credit cards there and can finally stop hiding Cuban cigars (well, only up to $100 worth) when crossing back into the States. To clear up any confusion, it isn’t illegal for Americans to travel there; it is, however, illegal to spend more than $100 there. This is a Treasury Department regulation and, of course, there are ways around it. But this new relationship will make it much easier to visit without going through federally-licensed tour operators (which isn't the best use of your dollars).
However, don’t start shopping for a new bathing suit just yet, the Treasury Department still needs to issue the new regulations which will most likely take weeks. At this time, just having a beach vacation there though isn't under the list of allowed reasons to travel there, but that could change. But if those regulations are enacted, Americans could finally begin to see cheaper flights to Cuba.
“We currently operate three weekly charter flights to Cuba, FLL-HAV, TPA-HAV, TPA-SNU. It’s too early to assess the implications of the change in policy, and we wouldn’t want to speculate, but we certainly are interested in the opportunities,” stated JetBlue, according to USA Today. “We recognize the potential demand for more travel options among people who need to travel between the U.S and Cuba. We would be interested in further expanding the successful charter program we’ve operated into Cuba over the last three years.”
“We look forward to the day - hopefully soon - when all Americans have the opportunity to travel to Cuba,” said Barney Harford, CEO of Orbitz Worldwide, according to CNN. “There are numerous economic, social and cultural benefits that will flow from free and open access and our customers are eager to visit Cuba.” But some airlines are still waiting until more is known about the new travel regulations. "We're aware of today's announcements but it's too soon to determine if or how they will impact our service footprint," said Southwest Airlines in a statement.
Obama has also urged Cuba to improve telecommunications to support greater Internet access. Currently, where you can actually find a connection, it is slow, unreliable and expensive. Business travelers and reporters will largely benefit from this sanction if it happens.
While Americans have been infrequent visitors to Cuba, it is a common destination for many travelers outside of the US, including Canada. Our neighbors to the north are also questioning the effects of this new deal and wondering what the country that is virtually free of American commercialization will look like in the coming years. But for the most part, tour operators seem to welcome the change as it could mean increased bookings.
“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,” said Dugald Wells, Cuba Cruise President and CEO. “However, we absolutely foresee an increase in bookings from international travelers 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.”
“Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, so there’s some exciting possibilities from a cruise industry perspective,” remarked Carnival Cruises in a statement, according to MSNBC. “Some infrastructure for cruising already exists in the country, along with several ports, so it offers great potential, but there are other issues that will need to be taken into consideration if this market opens up.”
As this is all very new, it will no doubt be a long and messy process, but we’re eager to see what Obama’s new approach fully realized will mean for travelers. Especially in regards to new hotel openings and more tours making their way through the country. As luxury travelers, we'd like to know which brave hotel chains will begin their entrance into Cuba, and what about villas? How long will it take for this to become a luxe destination? Or will it ever become one?