This past winter season saw an upswing in the sale of vacation packages to Cuba. In my own opinion, it was largely due to the announcement that soon, Americans will be able to travel freely to and from Cuba. March 20, 2016, was the first visit by a US president to Cuba in 88 years marking the beginning of the end!
Several U.S. air carriers, including United, Delta and American Airlines have submitted applications to approval to fly directly from the States into Cuba and service may begin as early as fall of 2016. Cruiselines such as Carnival have also began the necessary steps for approval to offer a seven day 'cultural exchange'. The work around for the current travel restrictions is that Americans must spend at least eight hours each day involved in some type of cultural experience. This is not to say that sitting at an all-inclusive resort chatting up the bar tender over mojitos would qualify as a 'cultural experience'!
With the influx of American tourists wanting to taste the forbidden fruit, so to speak, it will suddenly increase the demand for accommodations and other amenities on the island. For the most part these have been in short supply and notably lacking the luxurious amenities and services many of the other Caribbean destinations and resorts. Many hotel chains are scrambling to get out in front and begin renovations and rebranding to bring experiences more in line with that of their brands in locations such as Mexico and Dominican Republic. This sort of undertaking does not happen overnight however hoteliers such as Starwood have already begun the task set before them with hopes of completion before the end of 2016.
For American tourists, this all sounds well and good, but one can't help but wonder what it all means for Canadian travelers. For many years, Canadians have been accustomed to essentially having Cuba all to ourselves so exactly how the "new" Americanized Cuba will look remains to be seen. Certainly increased demand will mean a boost to the local Cuban economy and enhanced infrastructure but it's a double edged sword for the budget conscious traveler. Hotel companies will want to maximize their return on their investments so an upward pressure on overall rates would be expected causing an increased cost for Canadian travelers. In addition to rising vacation prices, Canadians can also expect that in time, a more 'Americanized' look and feel to the island and it's cities will be inevitable. The prospect of having McDonald's golden arches and Starbucks on every corner seems to have Canadians flocking to Cuba to get in one last visit before the transformation takes place.
No one can be certain what the new Cuba will look like or ultimately cost in the long run but one thing most Canadian travelers seem to agree on is that change is coming. I for one, hope Cuba is able to maintain it's authenticity and charm.