Cuba has always been perfect for Canadians seeking a beautiful beach-filled vacation on a budget.
But the Cuba as we know it is about to change – so if you like it the way it is, you may want to book a trip now before the landscape becomes unrecognizable and ‘affordable’ no longer applies.
In case you’ve been living under a great big Canadian rock, we’re in a historic time for U.S./Cuba relations. This week, President Obama visited the island nation, marking the first presidential trip in since 1928. The U.S. is moving full speed ahead in an attempt to normalize relations after a 54-year embargo against Cuba was finally lifted. In July, Cuba gained a new embassy in Washington as the two countries resumed full diplomatic relations.
Even so, there are still many roadblocks.
U.S.-imposed regulations still don’t allow Americans to visit Cuba for recreational travel, though there are 12 valid reasons where travel is permitted. These include visits to close relatives, academic programs, professional research, journalistic or religious activities, and participation in public performances or sports competitions. Furthermore, U.S. airlines will add Cuba as a part of its regularly scheduled service later this year. The first U.S. cruises to Cuba will also set sail beginning this spring.
Earlier this week, Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced a signed and sealed plan to market two properties in Havana, and signed a letter of intent to operate a third. This marks the first U.S.-Cuba hotel deal since 1959.
Cuba is also starting to welcome American businesses, from company offices, to warehouses, franchises, and agencies. Since September, plans are also in place for the U.S. government to spread telecommunications, Internet services, flight routes, and the export of certain goods to Cuba. American entrepreneurs can now establish certain businesses in Cuba like they never could before.
So, what does this mean for Canadians?
Travel experts have recently weighed in, telling Canadians that we should probably go to Cuba now before the prices climb and the island as we know it begins to change. A visit to Cuba is one of the few things we enjoy that our friends South of the Border weren’t privy to – and enjoy it we do. In 2014, almost 1.2 million Canadians visited Cuba, making up one-third of all travellers according to Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information. Canada sends more tourists to Cuba than any other country in the world.
With the relaxation of travel restrictions, the number of Americans in Cuba has already increased significantly. And it probably won’t be long before they don’t have to fall neatly into one of those 12 categories to book a flight. There will reportedly be up to 110 flights daily between U.S. cities and destinations in Cuba.
This means that the pristine beaches are about to get more crowded, and those travel deals may not be so affordable. Naturally, all these people are going to need places to stay.
A revamp of the country’s existing airports, highways, restaurants, and hotels will be required. Currently, the country is lacking in luxury hotels. According to The New York Times, there are about 61,000 hotel rooms in Cuba, of which 65 per cent have four and five-star ratings.
Until now, widespread commercialization has been absent in Cuba, which is a major part of its charm. With the infiltration of Americans, this will inevitably change. The good news, of course, is that this it could hopefully provide impoverished Cubans with more job opportunities. Not to mention, the arrival of familiar, reliable American brands may indeed be a welcomed addition to your vacation.
How all of this would impact Canada’s commercial relationship with Cuba is also of concern. Currently, this relationship exceeds $1 billion annually in two-way trade. Canada is the second-largest foreign investor in Cuba, and the third-ranking country when it comes to joint ventures with Cuba. Some fear it wouldn’t take long before Canadian companies get squeezed out by their American counterparts. It’s happening right now in our own country, after all. A prosperous Cuba could mean more competition between American suppliers.
With the influx of American companies, we could eventually see dwindling trade and investment dollars between Canada and Cuba. Let’s not forget that the U.S. is a lot closer to Cuba than we are. Not to mention, a greater number of Americans than Canadians speak Spanish, eliminating potential language barriers.
On the positive side, a strengthening of relations could lead to a more prosperous Cuba and create a larger market for Canada’s exports. Furthermore, as Peter Mckenna of the Ottawa Citizen points out, we could benefit from the infrastructure projects and investment opportunities in specialized sectors like oil and mineral development, along with financial and banking services. We can also share our seasoned expertise on tourism and management. Canada being an ally of both countries, Ottawa has already been called upon to assist Obama’s initiative to built a new relationship with Havana.
To our point earlier: It’s still never a bad idea to book a trip to Cuba ASAP.