Fri | Dec 9, 2016

US travel industry carefully eyeing Cuba tourism

Published:Thursday | December 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

NEW YORK (AP):

Cuba was once a haven for sun-seeking American tourists. Beautiful beaches, lively casinos and late-night dancing made it the perfect getaway, only an hour's flight from Miami.

But the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro and the subsequent Cold War embargo against the communist island nation put an end to that.

United States President Barack Obama's announcement yesterday of plans to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba doesn't suddenly lift the ban on US tourism. It does, however, give hope to airlines, hotel chains and cruise companies - all of which have been quietly eyeing a removal of the travel ban - that they soon will be able to bring US tourists to the Caribbean nation.

"Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, so there are some exciting possibilities," said Roger Frizzell, spokesman for Carnival Corp. He said "some infrastructure for cruising already exists in the country", although other issues "need to be taken into consideration if this market opens up".

"Once people get a glimpse of Cuba, they always want to see more," said Katharine Bonner, a senior executive at Connecticut-based tour operator Tauck, which runs tours there under a cultural exchange licence.

"Americans are very curious about a country that is 90 miles off our coast but has been off limits for so long."

It is that isolation, in part, that is so appealing. "There's no McDonalds, no Starbucks," Bonner said. "Once travel opens, there will be a rush to see Cuba before it gets 'Americanised'.

"It's almost like a country that has been frozen in time ... [and] there's going to be a desire to see Cuba before it changes."