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Don't panic, just prepare - Former Caribbean diplomats call on Ja to increase competitiveness as US-Cuba relations normalise

Published:Wednesday | March 23, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndre Poyser

When United States President Barack Obama stepped on Cuban soil on Sunday, he became the first United States president to do so in nearly 90 years.

Another notable aspect of the visit is the army of business leaders and congressmen who accompanied him on the trip.

According to ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the United States for Antigua and Barbuda, Sir Ronald Sanders, big businesses in America are anxious to get into Cuba to take advantage of the commercial opportunities that, over the years of the embargo, they have lost to Canadian and European rivals.

The interest of American businesses in Cuba, particularly in the area of tourism, has raised concerns that Jamaica's tourism product may suffer. News reports indicate that an executive from Starwood Hotels, which just inked an agreement to manage three Cuban properties, were also in the convoy that accompanied Obama to the communist country.

The number of American tourists visiting Cuba increased by approximately 80 per cent last year and is expected to increase further when airlines resume regular service.

Former Jamaican ambassador to the United States, Dr Richard Bernal, has, however, argued that full normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba does not imply that Jamaica's tourism product will come under threat.

"There is no need for panic, as Cuba has to upgrade its tourism infrastructure, but preparations should not be delayed by complacency," he said in an emailed response to The Gleaner.




Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has said he does not believe the changing tide in relations between the US and Cuba threatens Jamaica's tourism market.

"The United States market is a big market, so the people who quarrel about Cuba, tell them this minister does not fear any destination anywhere at all, because the markets that we are both competing in are huge and lucrative markets," he said in a media release.

Professor Stephen Vasciannie, also a former Jamaican ambassador to the US, is also of the view that Jamaica's tourism product will not suffer greatly given the American affinity for Jamaican culture and the common language.

At the same time, Bernal has prescribed that Jamaica, in preparing for the opening of Cuba, improve the competitiveness of the tourist sector in both quality and price and should continue to explore synergies such as dual destination vacations.

According to Bernal, Jamaica will also face competition for direct foreign investment because Cuba has a larger market and a relatively less expensive labour force that is educated and supported by excellent health care.