Cuban Tourism – Poleaxed by Politics (18.06.19)

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department announced that the USA is prohibiting visits to Cuba via cruise ships, yachts and private and corporate aircraft. In a classic case of knee-jerk popularist politics cutting a swathe through people’s livelihoods, this will deal a hammer blow to both the international and local tourism industry.

The immediate implementation of the new regulations comes out of left field, allowing little to no assistance to those coping with an unwieldy mop-up operation.

Not only has the move effectively kyboshed the US-to-Cuba cruise industry, causing cruise companies, tour operators and travel agents to reel with the headache of trying to sort out the mess of around 800,000 passenger cancellations, it also means that US cruise lines have had to re-route protected holiday itineraries from now into some unknown date in the future.

Former president Barack Obama had encouraged closer links between the countries, but now these initiatives are being sent back to the freezer, cruise line companies such as Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian have to scrap well-laid travel plans, and remove Cuba from all itineraries.

The financial implications are as ruinous for the outbound tourism market as they are for the Cuban economy.

The Cuban tourism market has flown the flag in recent years.  Its citizens are desperate to engage with the international world, and gain access to differing societies and hugely important hard currencies. Welcoming over 4.5 million tourists per year, the tourism industry – bedrock to many Cuban communities – has been decimated for many in one swoop, impacting hundreds of thousands of Cuban livelihoods.

As in my previous blog posting highlighting the impact US sanctions have had on Iran’s tourism industry, the opportunity for visitors and hosts to mutually benefit from their social and economic interaction will be hugely missed by all.

How long will this ban will last? What will the full impact be on the short, medium- and long-term development of the Cuban tourism industry? Only time will tell.

Perhaps the only positive news is that, bearing in mind the considerable expansion of the Cuban cruise market, there is hope that this unique Caribbean island can use this opportunity to re-evaluate the sustainability of this often overbearing travel market sector.