The New York Times and other major news sources reported Wednesday that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years.
"I think the opening of Cuba will attract new customers to the Caribbean market, rather than shifting travelers away from other Caribbean destinations," says Mitch Toren, chief vacation engineer for TripGuy Travel, based in Holland, PA. "People are looking for new locations to explore and Cuba has always had a romantic and historical appeal. I can see people who would prefer European or South American city stays considering Havana instead."
The announcement followed the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican (and is the first Pope from Latin America), U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.
"I’m very interested myself to see the impact of Cuba’s opening," says Emily Fisher of VIP Vacations, Inc., located in Bethlehem, PA. "I’m curious if people are going to jump right into exploring the destination or if they will still be hesitant. I think more experienced travelers will be a bit more hesitant, while newer travelers and the younger generation will probably be more willing to jump right into it."
Washington and Havana have no diplomatic relations and the United States has maintained a trade embargo on Cuba since the 1950s. According to Reuters, a senior congressional aide said Obama would ease the embargo and travel restrictions that prevent most Americans from visiting the island.
"As far as impacts to other destinations, I think the biggest impact will be on the harder to reach smaller islands in the Southern Caribbean," says Jeremy Mariette of Amphibia Travel, which is based in Minneapolis, MN. "With Cuba being a short flight from the U.S., it will make for an easy trip for most Americans."
As CNN pointed out, this restoration will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business with the Cuban people by extending general licenses.
"Some think this could negatively impact other warm destinations since many Americans may choose to travel to Cuba instead to see what the hype is all about. Overall I don't think this will be the case," says Bernadette Sperrazza of The World Awaits Travel. "There are still many Americans that feel we should not have open relations with Cuba because of their political views. It could take a lot of time to convince the masses of the U.S. that it is a safe destination for Americans. We will still see people traveling to the neighboring islands, Mexico and Hawaii. Every destination has something beautiful and unique to offer."
While the more liberal travel restrictions won't allow for tourism, they will permit greater American travel to the island. It is worth noting that Wednesday's announcement comes just months ahead of the March 2015 Summit of the Americas, in which Cuba is set to participate for the first time.
Previously, Washington had vetoed Havana's participation on the grounds it is not a democracy, but CNN noted that this year, several countries have said they would not participate if Cuba was once again barred.
As the Times noted, the American embargo on Cuba seems set to remain in place for the time being. Still, the administration signaled that it "would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to."
"I will certainly be selling Cuba, our office is asked almost daily about trips there; and unfortunately we have to say no," says Ryan Mielke of Regency Travel, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. "I even once had a group of 20 deposited to go about three years ago on a humanitarian trip but because of the unreliability of licenses at the time the trip had to be cancelled. Being positioned in South Florida, many travelers have been to the Bahamas and Caribbean; if Cuba opens up it will pique a lot of interest for those looking for something new in the region. Cuba is the biggest island with the longest beach-line in the Caribbean, with arguably the most interesting history and culture; I’ll be first in line to visit."
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