I've been writing for years about the potential for tourism in Cuba once our nation's ridiculous embargo on travel to the island is lifted. Judging by recent actions and comments from the Obama administration, it could be soon. Earlier this week, the White House said it will remove all restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to visit their homeland. The next step, some believe, is reversal of the federal ban against other Americans spending money in Cuba. A bill in Congress would do that, freeing the thousands (perhaps millions) of travelers who would like a glimpse of a land so close yet so far away.
Some revisionists—could it be those in the Florida travel industry?—are sounding the alarm that Cuba's tourism infrastructure couldn't handle a sudden influx of additional visitors and that chaos would ensue. They argue that the island has fewer hotel rooms than Detroit and many hotels and other tourist facilities are no where near up to par. But isn't that the point?
Once this artificial barrier is removed, the next step will be legalization of direct investment by American companies in the island. It won't take long—a few short years and certainly less than a decade—for American hotel chains to plant their flags along the island's hundreds of miles of pristine beaches and in the major cities, Havana being the prime one. It will be a rare opportunity to transform the island and the entire Caribbean tourism industry in the blink of an eye. I say bring it on now rather than later.
The smart leaders of Florida's tourism business figure it's better to join rather than fight the momentum. According to a story in today's Miami Herald, Monroe County (home of the Florida Keys) already has a marketing plan that envisions a time when tourists split their vacation time between the Keys, and Key West specifically, and Cuba. The group's working motto is “Two Nations. One Vacation.” This is a smart and astute approach to the looming tidal wave.