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Cuba in quite an impressive comeback

The Caribbean is witnessing the awakening of a real sleeping giant with considerable tourism and other economic potential that was undermined for political reasons after it became caught in the middle of superpower rivalry during the former Cold War.

However, following a welcome thaw in the frosty five-decades-long stand-off which characterized relations between the United States and Cuba, there are signs of growing American business interest in Cuba, which looks poised to further increase following a forthcoming visit to Havana by United States’ President Barrack Obama.

The rapprochement between the two countries is expected to be symbolically cemented during Mr Obama’s March 21 and 22 visit to the communist-ruled island. He will become the first sitting American president to set foot on Cuban soil in more than 80 years, following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations last year.

A further boost is in the offing for the Cuban economy, especially its expanding tourism sector, as Havana and Washington agreed earlier this week to re-establish scheduled air services. The aviation deal authorizes up to 110 American commercial flights a day, including 20 to the capital Havana.

The deal comes against the backdrop of an already impressive comeback by Cuba as a tourist destination for American travellers, thanks largely to charter flights. Three United States carriers –– American Airlines, JetBlue and United –– have so far expressed interest in operating scheduled services. Others are expected to follow.

Up to just a few years ago, Americans were barred from visiting Cuba because of a crippling United States-imposed trade embargo that was in effect for the last 50 years. However, in another sign of a warming bilateral relationship, the island last year recorded a whopping 77 per cent jump in American arrivals which totalled 161,000.

Overall, Cuba, which previously relied on the Canadian and European markets, hosted a record 3.32 million visitors in 2015, a 17.4 per cent increase over the previous year. These are developments to which Barbados tourism planners should pay close attention as there are obvious implications of competition for the local industry.

Here is an example of a possible challenge. Last year, compared with all the other Caribbean destinations, Barbados recorded the highest growth in tourism business out of the United States, which accounted for 50 per cent of the region’s total tourism business. Reviewing the 2015 performance of the region’s bread and butter industry earlier this week, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) put the increase at 27.6 per cent.

With the pending resumption of scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba, the strong possibility exists that more Americans may be tempted to visit Cuba, which is closer to home, instead of going farther south.

After being a forbidden destination for so long, what Cuba currently enjoys is a strong curiosity factor which can serve as a powerful magnet for Americans.

Until this curiosity fades, which may take quite a few years, it arguably gives Cuba an advantage over competing regional destinations. Other pull factors for American visitors are the exotic images of Cuba to which they have been exposed, including those of still-working vintage 1950s American cars on the streets of Havana, and the nostalgia related to Cuba’s reputation
as an American playground prior to the 1959 Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Barbados has to watch Cuba for another reason: obvious strong interest in Britain, which has been the mainstay market of the local tourism industry for more than a decade, translated into Cuba emerging as most popular Caribbean destination for British tourists last year.

Cuba accounted for just over a quarter or 25.2 per cent of total British visitors to the Caribbean, according to the CTO. Barbados, with 14.3 per cent, was in second spot. Britain is also the leading European market for Caribbean destinations.

In the meantime, what provides Barbados and other regional countries with some breathing space to study the impact of Cuba’s comeback are concerns about Cuba’s carrying capacity to cater to a really huge influx of visitors. There are not enough hotel rooms. However, with expected inflows of investment, these deficiencies will be addressed either through expansion
of existing plants or construction of new ones.

While we warmly welcome Cuba’s reintegration after so many years of hemispheric exclusion, we cannot at the same time afford to ignore the implications from a business perspective, especially tourism. The reality is that both Barbados and Cuba are competing in the same markets.

4 Responses to Cuba in quite an impressive comeback

  1. Michelle Payne February 20, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Instead of focusing on the competition that can always come from any area, be it a new emerging market, as Cuba represents now or a political change, economic recession or natural disaster; Barbados was at the top of her game in this area for decades but it no longer is. St. Lucia and Dominica are the choices now of the dwindling middle class in North America. They are safer and the people are more hospitable.

    Five years ago, I said to some colleagues, I am going to Barbados for a few days and their immediate response was drugs and crime are a major problem; it is no longer a paradise. Last year, an acquaintance visited Cuba and later in the year accompanied a mutual Barbadian to Barbados for a week’s holiday.

    The visitor was shocked by the rudeness of some in the service industry and the precautions that had to be taken to be safe there. Pom Marine should be required training for anyone in the tourists industry. Here is an example of rudeness para excellence, Bajan style: Can I have a cup of tea with lemon? Sure. The waitress returns the tea with a slice of lime on the saucer. Miss, I asked for lemon do you have any? Da is wa we got Miss!” Delivered in an irritated manner by the waitress, with an accompanying sucking of her teeth and hands on her hip.” Upon return to the US, I was saddened to hear her report of a week in Bim: My American friend said. “I will not spend my money going to a place where the government cannot maintain a civil society. Why should I visit some place where people are generally rude, and I can be robbed, raped and murdered with no recourse? I can experience the same, with recourse in Chicago, Baltimore or New York City. Cuba, she said was poor in some areas when compared to Barbados but she could, and did walk the streets and beach of Havana at any time of the night or day alone without being harassed by vagrants. Good food was cheap whether in their hotels or in the local grocery stores. And, there was an abundance of local fruit and vegetables in the market place. In Barbados, an array of American fruit and vegetables of inferior quality, quadruple the price they cost in the US were available. What about local food and fruit? She asked? Tilapia, a cheap farm raised fish in the US, was in abundance in the hotel. Where was the local fresh fish? You expect fish on an island.”

    Here is an experience I encountered, four years ago in one of my favorite hotels in Barbados. I was awakened in the early hours of the morning by screams and banging. The couple next door was attacked and robbed in their room. The hotel had a security guard at the front desk and a camera at its entrance but no one saw anything. The cops were called around 2 am, the police station was a 5 minute walk from the hotel–they arrived at 7:30 am, disturbing guests who had finally gotten back to sleep after a horrific ordeal with a fellow guest being attacked with a butcher knife and robbed, on the 2nd floor of the hotel. And screams of help, help and blood all over the hallway and lobby! At 3 am, I said to the father, take your son- in- law to the hospital in a taxi, he is going to bleed to death waiting for the ambulance, which after an hour and thirty minutes had not arrived. That Swedish family will never return to Barbados. I was staying at one of my favorite hotels in Bim. I have not returned to the hotel since. Was it an isolated crime or is it a regular occurrence in the industry now? Barbados had a monopoly on the British tourist market. Why did we lose it to Cuba? After all, we were “Little England”. The lack of a reliable police response and emergency services are indications of a poorly run third world developing nation. Barbados was not in that category. Is it now?

    A civil society is one where citizens and visitors alike are sure that when the police or emergency services are called, they respond in a timely manner. Barbados had those structures in place 25 years ago. You could leave your clothes on the beach as most local residents did and take an early morning walk to the beach and not worry about being robbed or harassed by vagrants–tourists could do the same. Now in Barbados it seems you need a Body Guard or a Security Guard to excise such a basic right. .

    Errol Barrow laid a solid foundation for building a strong self-sufficient Barbados–An efficient public hospital and a solid educational system open to all citizens. “Pride and Industry” our motto was seen in the creation of: The Pine Hill dairy, Ju cy & Coke Factories, Banks Brewery Barbados Ltd. Farmers feeding the nation’s people. We became self-sufficient in meat, poultry and egg production. How did productivity and quality decline in these institutions and industries? Industries necessary for economic sustainability and supportive of an infrastructure favorable to a tourist destination.

    Barbados was the biggest producer of sugar for the British Crown in the 18th & 19 century and we were self-sufficient in producing our own sugar in the 20th century. A former sugar producer is now sending more foreign exchange aboard purchasing sugar from Demerara. While Wind Mills and sugar factories stand rusted and former cane fields filled with wild grass. And unemployed young Barbadians standing on the street corners of Bim, unaware of their heritage of “Pride & Industry”. With no avenue for Industry to feel Proud of–Lost and lawless they strut.
    Currently, organic sugar (our brown sugar) and molasses are the rage in North America, as healthy alternatives to the refined nutrition-less white sugar. Why are we not exporting brown sugar and molasses in bulk? Demerara, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have an array of these products being sold in North American markets such as: Boston, New York, and Washington at major grocery stores—what Barbadian products besides tourism are we producing to bring in revenue? Tourism is a mercurial industry as is evident from your notion of Cuba’s threat—why after 70 years have we not developed sustainable economic alternatives? Why have we not built on what Errol Barrow and Tom Adams created?

    Tom Adams continued to build on the solid infrastructure established by the Father of our newly Independent Barbados despite their differing political philosophies. They shared a love of Barbados and a vision for a self-sufficient strong nation. Prime Ministers Barrow and Adams shared the same vision America’s founding fathers had for their young nation. Building a new nation rid of its colonial yoke, yet embracing and building on what was good from our colonial heritage. Barbados was a model of educational, economic and infrastructure development for the newly emerging nations of the Caribbean and Africa. American Presidents chose it as they choice of destination to showcase developing nations. It established a developed communication network, including an international airport in the 1960’s. Barbados has not seen an American President on its shores since Bill Clinton in the 1990’s. Is this an indication of its changed status or the advances made by other developing nations as new models of successful third world nations out pacing us?

    Looking at Cuba as a competitive threat in the area of tourism is narrow sighed. Barbados under Errol Barrow’s leadership had a cultural and economic relationship with Cuba before the US demanded that we end the relationship or be punished economically. Let us re-establish that relationship and look at ways for Cubans and Barbadians to collaborate. Tourism is a prime avenue. We can share some of what we have achieved and learnt and they can share from their tourist industry. Developing, affordable regional air and sea travel between all the islands of CARICOM including Cuba is also a crucial area to foster these links. The two nation’s collaboration can include, sending tourists to Cuba when our hotels are filled and them to us when their hotels are filled.

    A micro and macro analysis and approach are needed. We have the advantage

  2. Corbinac February 20, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Flawed information by Michelle Payne. Do your research on Barbados, Cuba and St Lucia. The picture you paint is very misleading.

  3. Tony Webster February 21, 2016 at 5:29 am

    @Michelle Payne: thanks so much for sharing, lady! Cuba, ain’t going to just “dissappear,” from the tourism scene. Your closing thought about “collaboration”, is a positive one, but , as I have factually pointed out many times, our Jamiaican investor-friends are 30 years ahead of us, having entered into joint venture projects with the Cuban movers and shakers…as a hedge against just the eventuality which has now landed on our doorstep! They now have investments and market position- and a huge potential- to build-out and to safeguard.

    It’s just like our own “Market the Caribbean as ONE” efforts, courtesy of C.T.O: yes, we can market the Caribbean all we want…but a visitor will ultimately book a room …in ONE country. So we will always be up against each other.

    We need that slice of lemon…as badly now…as we ever did. unfortunately, the lemons are nestled in a whole bunch of nettles…which are more convenient to ignore…than to grasp!

  4. Michel Smith March 1, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Where are the flaws Corbinac?
    Are you hiding under a rock? Carbs and cowards hide under rocks, Sir. Real Men and Women add their John Hanock to their comments, Corbinac.


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