News and Facts about Cuba

Will Cuba drain tourists from Florida?

Will Cuba drain tourists from Florida?
The surging interest in the U.S. to visit Cuba raises questions of
whether the isolated island nation is ready and willing.
By Kevin Spear
Orlando Sentinel
contact the reporter Cuba Caribbean Cuban

Would New Yorkers prefer a long weekend in Key West or Havana?
HAVANA – A pressing frustration among Cubans is why the United States
keeps its embargo in place.

Some offer this theory to visiting Americans: Cuba would drain away
Florida’s . So the state protects itself through vociferous calls
to keep the lid on Cuba as vital for of its people.

That may sound like farfetched conspiracy theory, but there is much
attention paid to Cuba’s potential to attract tourism with its colonial
history, diverse culture, mountains, dazzling beaches, coral reefs,
music, art and cities that are living museums – all a very quick flight
south of Florida.

Cuban-born George Aguel, and CEO of the Visit Orlando tourism
association, has not returned to his birthplace since he left with his
family as a child. He’s not worried about Cuba’s potential to lure
tourists from Central Florida.

“I think the surge would come from people who have an interest in seeing
as it is today,” Aguel said. In the long run, he said, Cuba likely will
appeal to couples who enjoy the nightlife and “hanging out with mojitos
on the beach,” as was popular until the late 1950s.

“Thankfully that is not our market,” Aguel said. “We are the No. 1
family destination, and I don’t see any real form of impact for us. But
I can’t attest to that for other parts of Florida.”

Cuba is a big question mark about what it means for Florida and other
magnets such as the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Cancun and Costa Rica.

Whether New Yorkers would prefer a long weekend in Key West or Havana
depends largely on how Cuban leaders embrace tourism in years to come.

The picture today is mixed. Americans who prefer vacations of comfort
may find themselves in Cuba yearning for the feel of their airliner’s
tires touching down in Florida.

“As beautiful as Havana is, as beguiling as that city is, as nice as the
people are, it’s going to take awhile,” said Pedro Freyre, Cuban-born
chair of international practice in Miami at Akerman LLC. “The
infrastructure is a disaster.”

Judy Gallant, a Canadian agent with P&G Travel who works in Havana, said
most Americans she has dealt with “do not really know the reality of Cuba.”

Americans “are expecting the antique cars and other fun things to see,
but still want first-world and first-class service at the hotels,”
Gallant said. “The United States is galloping forward. Cuba is taking
baby steps.”

But steps are being taken, including, for example, with air
conditioning, which visitors from the U.S. are thought to be obsessed with.

“Cubans are fast learners,” said Eddie Lubbers, who founded Cuba Travel
Network in Havana in 2002. He said even vintage, American cars are being
retrofitted with AC.

“It’s only a matter of time before we’ll see the standards and
infrastructure in Cuba change to fully accommodate the American traveler.”

The scenario of invading Americans enthuses many Cubans – certainly not
all – as needed to enliven an island stifled by its pursuit of the

A driver, a 27-year-old enterprising Havana resident who grew up on a
farm, said Dec. 17 last year was a very happy day for his country.

That was when President Obama announced: “Today, the United States of
America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.”

Obama has loosened travel restrictions but Americans still are not
supposed to enjoy endless mojitos and lounging seaside as Canadians and
Europeans do.

Immigration officers casually quiz returning Americans: “Were you on

Americans used to be required to obtain specific permission to travel in
Cuba. Now they can check off a category on a form letter, authorizing
family, government affairs, journalism, academics religious and other
serious purposes.

As Cuba loosens its internal restriction and relations thaw with the
U.S., the island nation is adrenalized and vibrating in transition
between the Castros and a country anxious to erupt.
But each category includes the restriction, such as one for journalists,
that travel “will not include free time or recreation in excess of that
consistent with a full time schedule.”

Tour companies offer weeklong group excursions for educational purposes
that cost several thousand dollars. It’s possible to go it alone via
charter flight by getting a Cuban visa through a travel agency. A
recent, roundtrip flight from Tampa to Havana cost $440.

In Cuba, it’s readily apparent tourists already are a big part of the
nation’s . Several million arrive each year to visit a nation of
about 11 million.

Airbnb is up and running. There are helpful apps that work without
wireless, which, according to street talk, is available in pricey hotels.

There’s a car-free street in Old Havana, Calle Obispo, that runs a
half-mile along shops, museums and restaurants from the Plaza de Armas
to El Floridita, billed as one of Ernest Hemingway’s hangouts.

Obispo is crowded with Europeans and Canadians, browsing, drinking and
dining. But Cubans have much more creativity than the theme of a bearded

Elsewhere, there is a bar with walls covered by old typewriters, a horse
buggy that serves as a booth, reportedly gay servers, elegant cocktails
and $2 cheeseburgers.

The Cuban Art Factory, or Fabrica de Arte Cubano, is a power plant
converted to a multistory, nightclub venue of art, dance, film and live
music with lots of bars.

“We are waiting for the Americans,” said a taxi driver, who taught
himself English in anticipation of their arrival.

Source: Will Cuba drain tourists from Florida? – Orlando Sentinel –

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