Caribbean tourism may suf­fer due to pop­u­lar­ity of Cuba: travel of­fi­cials

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST - BY DAN­ICA COTO

Caribbean tourism of­fi­cials are push­ing for a part­ner­ship with the U.S. gov­ern­ment be­cause of con­cerns that warm­ing re­la­tions be­tween the U.S. and Cuba will re­sult in a sig­nif­i­cant loss of visi­tors to the rest of the re­gion.

Cuba has seen such a surge in visi­tors that the frag­ile bud­gets of many tourism- de­pen­dent is­lands will be hit hard if they don’t take ac­tion, Frank Comito, CEO of the Caribbean Ho­tel & Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion, said Wed­nes­day.

“If we con­tinue to op­er­ate busi­ness as usual, and we all draw from the same pie and Cuba is in the equa­tion ... there will be se­ri­ous eco­nomic and em­ploy­ment con­se­quences,” he said in a phone in­ter­view.

The as­so­ci­a­tion seeks to cre­ate a Caribbean Basin Tourism Ini­tia­tive to help boost in­vest­ment and travel across the re­gion with help from the U. S. The plan would be mod­eled on the Caribbean Basin Ini­tia­tive, a U. S.- led pro­gram in the 1980s that sought to boost trade in the Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­ica.

Comito also said the re­gion should work to­gether to boost over­all in­vest­ment and travel to the Caribbean.

“It’s a lit­tle ide­al­is­tic, but I think you need an el­e­ment of that in this,” he said. “A stronger Caribbean ben­e­fits ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing Cuba.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion pro­poses the plan in a re­port that warns of Cuba’s im­pact on the Caribbean and that was sent to the U. S. In­ter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion.

The re­port calls the open- ing of travel to Cuba for U. S. visi­tors “the big­gest and most dis­rup­tive peb­ble to be dropped into the Caribbean pool in fifty years.”

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 as­so­ci­a­tion said the is­lands where the tourism busi­ness could be most af­fected are those clos­est to Cuba — Ja­maica, Cay­man Is­lands and the Ba­hamas.

It is un­clear whether tourism of­fi­cials on those is­lands sup­port the as­so­ci­a­tion’s plan or whether they have taken steps to help at­tract more visi­tors. Tourism of­fi­cials in Ja­maica and the Ba­hamas did not re­turn mes­sages for com­ment.

Cay­man Is­lands Tourism Min­is­ter Moses Kirk­con­nell is­sued a state­ment say­ing that open­ing Cuba to visi­tors has in­creased peo­ple’s aware­ness of the Caribbean.

“How­ever, it is im­por­tant to note that there are only lim­ited and very spe­cific cat­e­gories of Amer­i­can visi­tors al­lowed to travel to Cuba, a bar­rier which the Cay­man Is­lands does not have in place,” he said.

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