Today’s Editorial February 20: Woo more European, Canadian visitors

While the world has been watching what Fidel Castro will do in Cuba, leadership in the Cayman Islands has quietly been working behind the scenes to help ensure that our country doesn’t suffer economically.

Cuba President Fidel Castro stepped aside Tuesday after ruling that country for nearly half a century.

For most of Castro’s rule, the United States has had trade sanctions against Cuba and has forbidden US citizens from travelling to that country.

That is all eventually going to change. It’s a given.

Castro’s successor, his brother Raul, has already raised expectations of economic openings and other modest reforms.

When the United States drops its sanctions against Cuba, the curious from that country will likely pick the island 90 miles south of Florida as a vacation spot.

The cruise industry will happily jump on the band wagon and some Caribbean destinations – the Cayman Islands included – will likely find themselves competing with a new site; not just a new site, but one that Americans have been curious about for decades.

What’s even more worrisome is that about 80 per cent of our stayover tourists are from the United States.

If a majority of them choose to go to Cuba rather than grace our shores, we could be in trouble.

That’s why the Department and the Ministry of Tourism have been casting their nets to Europe and Canada.

Cuba is not a novelty to Europeans or Canadians. They’ve been able to trek in and out of that country at will and won’t find the ‘newness’ of it as a destination as attractive as Americans will.

Because Raul Castro is likely to be voted in as president of Cuba on Sunday, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see many changes in US policy toward Cuba, which in turn will mean that our American tourism numbers shouldn’t suffer too badly. But the day is coming when Cuba will be opened up to visitors from the world over and the country will become another of our competitors.

And while we’re growing the number of Europeans and Canadians who choose to leave their disposable incomes with us while on holiday, it’s not enough.

DoT and the Ministry are on the right track to woo visitors from places other than the United States.

It’s now time to step up those efforts.