President Barack Obama’s administration is pushing for policy change regarding the travel ban to Cuba. There is a long history of animosity between these two countries. But at the same time, the proximity of Cuba to the U.S. mainland encouraged many to flee the oppressive government of Fidel Castro and attempt to seek greener pastures in America. As a result more than one million Cubans already consider the United States as their new home. On the other hand they also expressed their desire to go back to Cuba for sentimental reasons such as the need to visit family members who were left behind. Just behind Cuba is Jamaica. The Jamaican government fears that the lifting of the travel ban can negatively impact Jamaica’s tourism industry. A closer examination of pertinent details will reveal that Jamaica will experience a downturn in terms of tourism revenues but they can make adjustments to mitigate the impact of the lifting of the travel ban.
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The effects of cold weather can be easily cured by spending a few days in the Caribbean. There are so many island nations to choose from: Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago are just some of the more popular destinations. On the top of the list is Cuba and Jamaica and there are plenty of reasons why tourists would like to go there. The sandy beaches and the abundance of sunshine and the lure of these island countries during the cold months can be irresistible. For Americans, the proximity of Cuba and Jamaica to the U.S. mainland is another good reason why it makes more sense to go to these destinations rather than to tropical islands situated a considerable distance from America.
For Cuba and Jamaica, there is much incentive to increase income from tourism. For both countries, their economy is very much dependent on tourism. According to the CIA fact book after the Cold War, Cuba lost its primary benefactor, the former Union Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and as a result Cuba no longer has access to billions of dollars in economic aid (CIA-Cuba, 2009). According to a reporter from the Miami Herald, Cuba is the second most popular destination behind the Dominican Republic – the Castro controlled government welcomed roughly 2.3 million visitors last year alone (Hanks, 2009). This is an important aspect of Cuba’s emergence from the shadow of the former U.S.S.R. and if the travel ban is lifted, then one can only expect a sudden surge in Cuba’s tourism industry.
Jamaica is in the same boat as Cuba, meaning it cannot afford to lose it lucrative tourism industry. The CIA reported that Jamaica derives most of its foreign exchange from tourism and remittances (CIA-Jamaica, 2009). Remittances account for 20% of the GDP and tourism revenue is almost the same (CIA-Jamaica, 2009). One can easily understand what will happen to Jamaica’s economy if the number of tourists will significantly drop. For many years this tiny island nation benefited greatly from the travel ban of Americans to Cuba (Jackson, 2009). This means that Americans will never get the chance to enjoy the proximity of Cuba to the United States. They are forced to travel to nearby destinations such as Jamaica. But all of these will change if the U.S. government will approve of the lifting of the travel ban. With President Obama behind the bill to lift travel restrictions. there is a good chance that many Americans will get the chance to see Cuba in the near future.
Cuba vs. America
The animosity between Cuba and the United States stretches back to the Cold War when America was in direct opposition to the policies of the former U.S.S.R. When the Soviet Union succeeded in winning over Cuba to their cause the United States was terrified at the thought that a communist country is a stone’s throw away from the U.S. mainland. In the not so distant past, Cuba can theoretically shoot a weapon of mass destruction – courtesy of the Soviet Union of course – into Washington, D.C. The fact that Cuba allowed the Soviet Union to bring missiles into their backyard made the American government furious. This is an unforgivable sin and since then, the U.S. government and Fidel Castro’s Cuba could not see eye-to-eye on many issues.
The United States responded with an action that will hurt Cuba where it mattered. There was an economic embargo and a travel ban. The United States will not do business with Castro’s regime and to make matters worse Cuba can only observe the lucrative tourism market of Florida and yet unable to cash in, because Americans are not allowed visit this forbidden land. The fact that Americans are not allowed to enter Cuba, creates an invisible magnetic pull, making it difficult for curious tourists to find out more about this exotic island nation. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees has settled into the American way of life and as of current date there are approximately 1.5 million Cuban-Americans who will love the chance of visiting their homeland. These factors add pressure to reverse long-standing policies.
A few months ago, a bipartisan group of twenty U.S. senators is calling for the repeal of America’s 47-year-old travel ban to Castro’s Cuba (Clark, 2009). The rationale behind the lifting of the travel ban was summed up by Sen. Chris Dodd who asserted that, “The best antidote to totalitarianism is the American citizen travelling, the ability to actually communicate with other people” (Clark, 2009). Later on it was made clear that President Obama was on the same page with the aforementioned 20 senators, but his plans were more modest. Obama is willing to lift the travel restrictions to allow Cuban-Americans to visit families in Cuba (Meckler, 2009). So, for Jamaica’s tourism industry, this is not as bad at it looks. Still, the 1.5 million Cuban-Americans can be a major boost to Cuba and may shift the preference of many tourists to make Cuba their top choice.
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As mentioned earlier Cuba is now the second top destination behind the Dominican Republic notwithstanding the travel ban imposed by the U.S. government. This simply means that the lifting of the ban will further increase the number of tourists who will flock to Cuban shores. Jamaica had to prepare and create contingency plans in order to mitigate the negative impact of this new development in the Caribbean. If they will not move quickly then their economy will suffer severely if tourists will decide to stay in Cuba, which is closer to the U.S. mainland, instead of spending longer travel time to go to Jamaica which is situated behind Cuba when one is flying from Florida down to the said region.
Jamaica could not afford to be in denial and say that the travel ban is not yet approved. The revelation that Obama is behind the lifting of the travel ban as well as the fact that a group of bipartisan senators are moving aside differences to ensure that this bill gets the nod of other lawmakers is already a major proof that many would like this bill to pass. Jamaican leaders could not afford to bury their heads in the sand so to speak, by saying that the lifting of the travel ban is limited to Cuban-Americans. They can argue that the 1.5 million Cuban-Americans in the United States is not a significant number because not all of them can afford to travel to Jamaica anyway. But this can be a major mistake. They must aggressively promote their tourism industry to draw more tourists.
Jamaica must plan ahead knowing that the lifting of the travel ban for Cuban-Americans can evolve into something else. Sen. Dodd’s suggestion can gain momentum and American policymakers may agree with him that an influx of American citizens in the streets and shores of Cuba can inspire the people and the government to desire for reforms along the lines of democratic principles. The logic behind this suggestion is shaky (Clark, 2009) but still, the idea of freedom to travel, is something that will appeal to a new generation of Americans and new crop of political leaders, chief of them is President Obama.
While Jamaican authorities may dread the idea of American tourists flocking to Cuba and ignoring other destinations in the Caribbean, there are those who are optimistic that a successful collaboration with the Cuban government is feasible, and therefore tourists in Cuba can also choose a travel package that will include Jamaica (Pizarro, 2009). According to Jamaica’s tourist officials, “For the past year and a half, Jamaica has been in discussions with Cuba to explore the possibilities of dual destination strategies” (Pizarro, 2009). This makes sense because these two nations are in close proximity to each other. Creating a tourism alliance with Cuba will allow for the creation of more attractive travel packages that can benefit both countries.
The Jamaican government is seriously considering the challenge of competing with a formidable foe and they are already aggressively promoting their tourism product as well as attracting investors to ensure that Jamaica remains a premier tourist destination (Jamaica Information Service, 2009). While Jamaica’s tourist officials are bracing from the impact of major policy changes in America, they are also encouraged by the fact that Cuba has a long way to go before becoming the top tourist destination in the Caribbean.
The main obstacle, before Cuba’s tourism industry can take-off, is of course the political problems that plague the country. Having an unpredictable and hard core communist dictator at the helm of a country is not something that can attract visitors. At least this is the view of the American government. Fidel Castro has been sick in recent years and he has turned over his authority to his younger brother (Clark, 2009). This is also another major issue that the Cuban government has to address. There are those who believe that Fidel Castro is the reason why Cuba is relatively stable and his imminent death due to old age or sickness can plunge the nation into anarchy. The belief that Cuba has an unstable political foundation is something that can prevent investors from pouring serious money into this country (Valdes, 2007). As of the present Cuba could not handle a sudden increase in the number of tourists that will visit the country – there are only a few high-quality hotels that can serve American tourists (Hanks, 2009). So for the time being, Jamaica has breathing room to make critical adjustments to their tourism industry.
The lifting of the travel ban will be in stages. The first group who will benefit are the Cuban-Americans who have family members left behind in Cuba. If this restriction is lifted, many believe that lawmakers will move quickly to lift the travel ban for ordinary Americans. As a result Cuba will have to accommodate an influx of American tourists eager to know what Cuba is like. This will definitely create a negative impact on Jamaica’s tourism industry. But two things have to occur before Jamaican tourism officials begin to worry. Firstly, the bill must be ratified and secondly, Cuba has to make major improvements in their tourism industry.
- CIA. (2009). Central Intelligence Agency, Factbook: Cuba.
- CIA. (2009). Central Intelligence Agency, Factbook: Jamaica.
- Clark, S. (2009). Spring Break in Havana? Senate Proposal to Lift Cuba Travel Ban Ignites Debate. FoxNews.
- Hanks, D. (2009). Florida tourism looking at Cuba. Miami Herald.
- Jackson, S. (2009). Think tanks expect US travel to Cuba to open full by October. Jamaica Observer.
- Jamaica Information Service. (2009). Ministry of Tourism.
- Meckler, L. (2009). U.S. to lift some Cuba travel curbs. The Wall Street Journal. Web.
- Pizarro, R. (2009). Jamaica wary of U.S. tourism flow to Cuba but is taking steps to share in the bonanza. Miami Herald. Web.
- Valdes, R. (2007). Prices, not politics, slow Cuba tourism.