The news that, for the first time in almost 60 years, Cuba is soon to be led by somebody other than a member of the Castro family has sparked surprise around the world. Political commentators are already beginning to assess the possible effects of the ascendency of Miguel Diaz-Canel from the vice-presidency to the presidency. The travel industry, too, has pricked up its ears.
Popularised by the novels of Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, Cuba has been luring western tourists for decades. The images of Che Guevra may be sepia-toned and the famous nineteenth century squares of elegant houses faded and in need of repair, but Cadillacs still ply the streets, the rum flows, the beaches are among the best in the Caribbean and the package holidays are luxurious. With no signs that the change in regime will affect any of this, it’s unremarkable that tour operators are predicting little to no change in tourist interest in the island.
However, as recently pointed out by Philip Grierson, director of Cox & Kings, of far more significance is the potential relationship between the new Cuban regime and the US White House. Any thawing in relations is likely to result in more US tourists. In the longer-term, this would be likely to result in greater investment in the Cuban hotel industry – although this would not necessarily be to the tastes of Cuba’s existing fans. In the short-term, increased visitor numbers could strain existing infrastructure.
Given the nature of the Trump presidency, a rapid improvement in relations between the two countries seems unlikely. Despite this, anyone with any interest in the Cuban tourist market will be watching current developments with interest.