Published on : Friday, January 19, 2018
The travel to Cuba is booming from dozens of countries, including the United States.
And the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business.
The US government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy.
The number of American travellers rose to 619,000, more than six times the pre-Obama level. But amid the increase a 18 percent increase over 2016- the owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp drop-off.
Rodolfo Morales, a retired government worker who rents two rooms in his home said that there was an explosion of tourists in the months after President Obama’s detente announcement.
The ultimate destination of American tourism spending in Cuba seems an obscure data point, but it’s highly relevant to a decades-old goal of American foreign policy.
It is encouraging the change in Cuba’s single-party, centrally planned system.
The tourism boom in Cuba began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. U.S. cruise ships began docking in the Bay of Havana and U.S. airlines started regular flights to cities across the island. Overall tourism last year was up 56 percent over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.
With the prohibition in tourism to Cuba, Americans can travel here for specially designated purposes like religious activity or the vaguely defined category of “people-to-people” cultural interaction.
President Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties.
Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses. The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as by far the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.
Trump’s new policy re-imposed the required for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.
As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.