Saturday, January 31, 2015

American changes on Cuba: Bad news or good news?

President Barack Obama has just now opened up channels for future dialogue with the Communist Republic of Cuba. Most people should have a cursory understanding of the Cuban/American diplomatic, political and economic standoff by now. But as tensions cool now to a new generation of understanding and tolerance of Cuba/America relations, certain issues have come to light with the possibility and seeming eventuality of opening the doors for Americans into Cuba.

Former President of Cuba, Comrade Fidel Castro, has been ill for the past few years. His brother, President Raul Castro, has assumed responsibility for the country's administration. This initially had signalled a small shift in thinking on Cuba's communist and anti-Western ideology espoused and kept current by Fidel Castro.

Fidel's brother, Raul Castro, is certainly not Fidel and apparently is not as hard and fast on having further prolonging this unequal, wasteful and nonsensical standoff with the Western-Hemisphere's largest economic block and the world's largest military super-power, the United States of America.

How does all of this go over with Cuban migrants that were affected by Fidel Castro's policies is something very important. In fact, oddly enough, the reaction of South Floridians has been tame. Too tame. The man responsible for them leaving their homeland in search of freedom, and in most certainty the man responsible for taking their wealth and power within Cuba post revolution, is being given leeway by America through his younger brother as the current president of Cuba.

This means one thing: The old guard of Cuban migrants in South Florida have either died out, or are simply coming to the understanding that the American blockade on Cuba has worked to the disadvantage of all persons involved intimately in this.

While living in South Florida, I had a chance to take a Latin-American politics class. As per the norm, the class was primarily filled with Cuban-Americans. The good thing about this was that younger Cuban-Americans, while they were aware of Castro and the Revolution and the pain and displacement it caused their friends and family members, were not as hard pressed on Fidel Castro or the Castro regime to any large extent. This was refreshing.

So, as we see things changing, the time is apparently "ripe" for an opening of US and Cuban relations. We wish the parties all the best as the embargo, quite frankly, has done more to harm Cubans living in Cuba than it did the Castro regime.

However, Cuba opening up, particularly for tourism based economies like The Bahamas, has caused some fears and anxiety. Anxiety particularly as it relates to Cuba, being a beautiful and culturally historic country that would be "new" and virgin tourism product for Americans, and especially North Eastern seaboard American tourists.

Just to give a little bit of information on the top visited destinations in the region, The Bahamas, as reported by Travellers Digest, is the fifth most visited destination in the Caribbean with about 1.3 million visitors a year, behind Jamaica with nearly 2 million and Cuba with 2.6 million in the fourth and fifth slots respectively. The Dominican Republic is in the top spot with just over 4.25 million visitors and Puerto Rico in the number two spot with roughly 3 million visitors.

The Bahamas is not even in the top spot, with Cuba having doubled the amount of tourists a year than does The Bahamas. The question to be asked now is how much more of a gain will Cuba make with regard to more tourist arrivals and how will it impact the persons looking to travel and them changing their travel plans to go to Cuba instead? We honestly won't know until it happens, but the option is on the table for that to occur.

What's shocking to note is that the top three destinations on the list are non-English speaking countries. What's also shocking is that the largest English speaking economy, Trinidad, is not even in the top ten. Also, the further you go Southward, tourist arrival figures start to trend downwards for English speaking countries.

What all of this suggests is that we have problems with tourism, right here and now even before Cuba fully opens up to Americans.

What it also suggests is that Cuba has made it quite fine with a mixture of tourists that are not American, as most of their visitors are Canadian and Mexican. While Mexicans obviously speak Spanish, the Mexican economy must be very strong and support a strong middle and upper-middle class, at the very least. It is those middle and upper middle class people that like to take vacations to get away from the hum-drum of life and in the numbers needed for a country depending on tourism as their main economic engine.

While The Bahamas, at least, should be concerned about, roughly, 250 to 350 thousand (or thereabouts) prospective tourists changing their itinerary from The Bahamas to Cuba, the point of the matter is what should we do to get more tourists to our shores right now as we type?

I'm no tourism specialist. However, anything over 250 thousand visitors deciding not to come to The Bahamas on any given year would most likely spell serious consequences.

With all of that being said, as we wrote earlier about the inconsequence of the Sir Stafford Sands economic model at length, and particularly as it relates to the need for other economic engines for The Bahamas, what should happen now is more of a focus on other industries in addition to capturing some of the Canadian, Latin American and European tourists along with Asian tourists.

Of course, money is always an issue. Money as it relates to tourism marketing expenditure, facilities upgrades and maintenance with regard to increased air-lift support and activity/venues for tourists when they come on shore, but we should not shy away from the challenge and shrink at the mere thought of doing something different and doing what we do better.

All in all, I for one welcome the shift in American foreign policy towards the end of the embargo on Cuba. It was long over due. In fact, it was something that should have been done 20 years ago, and particularly after it was seen that the Communist ideology was clearly and resoundingly defeated, the Soviet Union will never be again and that Cuba was no more of a military threat to America as is any other Caribbean nation a non threat.

In advance, we want to wish our friends in Cuba, Buena suerte, con mucho amor!
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