Cuban tourism officials are expecting another record year in 2017. It may sound like Cuba is competing with other islands—visitors to the entire Caribbean region increased by just 2.4 percent last year—but Caribbean leaders reportedly view Cuba’s success as a way to raise the tourism profile of all the islands in the regions.
“Cuba opening up is a fantastic thing for the Caribbean,” St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen M. Chastanet told The Miami Herald. “It only strengthens the brand of the Caribbean. It’s more important for all of us to be strong partners. The more Jamaica grows, the more potential clients there are for St. Lucia. It’s the same with Cuba.”
“Cuba is huge in Latin America, Europe and Canada and now even the United States of America,” he said. “There are a lot of people who haven’t come to the Caribbean and now maybe coming to Cuba will give them the appetite to come to the rest of the Caribbean islands.”
Tourism from the U.S. has the potential of having a big impact on the region as a whole. A study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the potential impact U.S. tourism in Cuba could have on the rest of the Caribbean concluded that Cuba’s gain won’t necessarily mean a loss for the other islands in the region.
Currently, American citizens are allowed to visit Cuba without prior permission of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control if the visit falls under one of 12 approved categories, including family visits, journalistic activity, educational activities, religious activities, official business for the U.S. government or foreign governments, professional research, humanitarian projects, and participation in public performances, workshops, clinics, and exhibitions.
This is the first time in decades that U.S. citizens can freely visit the island nation without prior approval from the U.S. government. The change was one of the elements of former President Obama’s overhaul of U.S.-Cuba relations. His administration loosened many of the stiff travel and commerce restrictions caused by the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
In addition to the approving the 12 categories for travel, the Obama administration also lifted limits on the use of U.S. dollars in transactions with Cuba. These actions were some of the most significant regulatory changes the Treasury and Department of Commerce made since Obama and President Castro announced plans for normalization in 2014.
But U.S. travelers still can’t make conventional tourism trips to just lounge on the beach, for example, under the current regulations. The IMF study estimates that lifting all travel restrictions could result in 3 to 5.6 million U.S. arrivals in the island nation, most of who are new tourists to the Caribbean.
There is still no indication that U.S. travel policy to Cuba will become less restrictive under the Trump administration. President Trump has said that Cuba didn’t offer any concessions to the U.S. and he may consider seeking a “better deal” from Cuba. He ordered a full review of all of Obama’s executive orders on the island.