Friday, December 19, 2014

New Cuba travel options could eventurally lure U.S. visitors away from Mexico's Riveria Maya

Cancún, Quintana Roo -
The new chapter which was opened in this week in U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations has not yet unbolted the door barring American travel-at-will to the island. But it soon may, if and when the Congress begins to dismantle the 54 year old trade embargo which prohibits such trips without special authorization from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Last year about 100,000 American citizens legally traveled to Cuba under OFAC licenses, primarily in groups sponsored by religious, missionary, medical, humanitarian and educational organizations. Travel experts estimate that number would increase to two million visitors annually immediately, if and when all existing restrictions are lifted by the government and licenses are no longer required.

In the meantime, thousands of other Americans enter the island every year "off the books," departing and returning through Canada and Mexico. Cancún, but a 90 minute flight from Havana, is one of the most popular points of departure. Cuban immigration agents generally refrain from stamping U.S. passports in most cases, even without being asked to do so. As a consequence most American travelers face no consequences for violating OFAC regulations, which can carry a penalty of up to $65,000 per transaction.

All this could offer a boon for Cuban tourism at the expense of Cancún and the Mexican Riviera Maya, according to travel agents and innkeepers in both countries. Air fares from Florida or the southeastern United States are typically 5-10% cheaper to Havana than to Cancún, and would likely go lower as booking demand increases. Industry experts say the Cuban hospitality industry will be greatly motivated to improve and upgrade hotels and infrastructure in the years immediately ahead.

In 2012 Quintana Roo state reported that Cancún and the major Rivera Maya resorts, including Isla de Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, had about 81,000 rooms available. All of Cuba has but 61,232, and most are much older and of inferior construction. The Castro government will have considerable catching up to do, but with great opportunity at hand and thus much incentive to reel in dollars from its former cold war enemy.

© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced or rewritten without permission.

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