Warning over Cuba emergence

Cayman among countries most impacted, report says

The emergence of Cuba as a rival for tourists and investment dollars will change the travel landscape in the Caribbean forever, industry leaders have warned. 

Caribbean tourism officials are pushing for a new partnership with the U.S. amid growing concern that the thawing of relations with Cuba will have drastic consequences for neighboring islands. 

“The biggest and most disruptive pebble to be dropped into the Caribbean pool in fifty years will arrive with the opening of travel to Cuba for United States citizens,” the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association warns in a position paper. 

The association says islands closest to Cuba, including the Cayman Islands, are likely to suffer the “greatest ripple effects.” 

The association is looking to create a Caribbean Basin Tourism Initiative to help boost investment and travel across the region with help from the U.S. The initiative calls for technical and policy support from the U.S. to ensure the stability of tourism-based economies in the region if U.S. tourists are, as expected, allowed to visit Cuba after a 50-year embargo. 

“While U.S. tour, airline and cruise executives are eyeing the tourism potential of the long-forbidden paradise 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, conflicted stakeholders throughout the wider Caribbean have legitimate concerns [over] whether there will be a level playing field and whether the rest of the region will grow tourism arrivals or lose tourism investments and arrivals as they divert to Cuba,” said Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association President Emil Lee. 

The association’s position paper acknowledges that the lifting of the embargo and changing of legislation regulating travel, trade and financial transactions between the U.S. and Cuba is dependent on Congressional action and most likely the results of the next presidential election. 

“The good news may be that this state of affairs provides the individual countries of the Caribbean time to get [their] affairs in order,” the position paper noted. “Once again, the gods are smiling on the Caribbean. They tell us with sufficient time in advance that a disruptive force is on the way.” 

It states a “time capsule” effect is already driving up tourism in Cuba, with visitors motivated to see the island before it is altered by development. 

From January to early May, Cuba saw a 36 percent increase in U.S. visitors from the same period in 2014. It also had a 14 percent jump in other international arrivals, and Caribbean tourism officials say they expect those numbers to keep rising. 

“Those countries whose focus has been on the United States as their primary source market and who have not felt any competition from Cuba … will be surprised at how sophisticated and effective the Cuban marketing machine has become,” the report says. 

The report also warns of a possible impact on airlift from the U.S. to other Caribbean destinations. 

“One new concern has to be the possible willingness by the airline industry to absorb low airfares and load factors for a period of time in order to build routes and market share in Cuba. This could be disastrous for the wider region, especially if it also results in U.S. carriers shifting aircraft to new Cuba routes upon the lifting of the embargo.” 

Cayman Airways is launching a new route between Miami, the Brac and the coastal city of Holguin in eastern Cuba this year. The report suggests that kind of option should be pursued by local carriers to cash in on “combination vacations.” 

The impact on the cruise industry in Cuba will be immediate, the report says. 

The major cruise companies have a well-established track record of successfully investing in new port infrastructure, and quickly establishing new or improved ports of call. 

“The likelihood that cruise lines will drop some existing ports to accommodate Cuba port visits is real and the proximity of Cuba to the U.S. mainland can allow for Cuba to be easily added to a schedule that can impact itineraries to near markets such as the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and Jamaica,” the report says. 

Supporters of a new cruise dock in Cayman have warned that the island needs to invest in cruise piers so that it will “rise with Cuba” rather than losing its place in the market. 

The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association report also sounds a cautionary note for the future of hotel and infrastructure development in the Caribbean. 

“The fact that Cuba saw over $800 million in hotel-related investments in 2013 is a sobering thought. The Caribbean and its industry will find itself not only competing for American tourists but also for investment dollars,” it states. 

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  1. Does any one else see where it says that tourists want to get to Cuba before it is developed? We are already loosing tourists because of development. "Rise up with Cuba" Ha. We will only lose more to Cuba if we go ahead with this development. And tell me where pray tell will the return for this dock come from if the cruise lines divert anyway. Go spend all this money and don’t get any return is what I see happening. Focus on the smaller ships. We will still get cruise lines coming here just not the huge ones they expect. They are going to go to Cuba anyway because it is a novelty. Sort out the airport that is where the return will come on investment. Not a huge cruise pier that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and cause so much damage to the environment to build, and has the possibility to put us in so much debt we wont be able to get out of it. Think on this before you support this dock.

  2. So they will open up to the American market. May be we can not cruise in comfort anymore and we have to think a bit harder to be unique and attractive in our own right. If we do what everyone else is doing, we will end up the same way: Crowded beaches,destroyed environment, jewellery shops and cement, lot of it. May be we should strive to be cleaner,safer and friendlier to tourists and residents alike. May be we will be known and respected for protecting our natural resources like no other,saying no to the masses, the dolphinariums and the big damaging docks. May be tourists will want to come because we are better at customer service,we have a beautifully preserved island and we have a deeper knowledge of our environment and passion to protect it. Cuba is a beautiful country with tremendous natural resources but they still have a long way to go. They could not make it happen even with the tourism of the rest of the world. We have what we have whether they open up or not. Lets value what we have and make other people value the experience too and they will keep on coming. Our business will be done with all those tourist tired of been herded like cattle and that would prefer a more personal attention rather than the screaming masses rushing in buses all over the place without even knowing what island they are visiting. Let Cuba do their thing. Let us do what we need to do to be different.

  3. You cannot guarantee " rising " with Cuba in relation to cruise ship business merely by building better port facilities. Cuba has far more than Cayman to offer passengers onshore, and probably at a much lower price. And, it already has multiple ports of call, each with varying attractions. Ignore Cuba’s resurgence at your peril.

  4. Not to worry. From what I understand, Cuba is a third world nation. The entire country. The hotels, or they are called hotels, are about 50 years behind, the roads are filthy, the food, well eat at your own risk. Not to mention CRIME. Folks, Cuba may be a curiosity at first, but if you make it back, that will be your final trip.

  5. I know! Let’s sit back on our porches, and wave goodbye to the cruise ships that will pass us by, and to the air travel, as the passengers reject Cayman, because our airport facility is antiquated. Keep talking and arguing and arguing and talking. Wake up Cayman, we cannot afford to lose any tourist dollars. That’s the way of the world and if we don’t get with it now, we will have to sell fruit along the road, rather than duty free jewelry, and fragrances. Visitors to the reefs, turtles and other attractions will go elsewhere. It won’t matter what we offer