Providence Business News

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Providence Business News

Ask Americals what first comes to mind when you mention Cuba and you’ll usually get a simple answer. If you were born in 1950 or before you were probably glued to the news reports during those 13 days in October
of 1962 and the anticipation of missiles raining down on Miami.

But most U.S.-born meeting and incentive professionals are much younger and only know Cuba from their parents talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis or watching Ricky Ricardo from “I Love Lucy,” a show that will live forever in the black hole that is TV reruns.

But whether your image of Havana runs to bombs or “Babalu,” one thing is for certain, that tiny island 90 miles off the coast of Florida is about to undertake an unprecedented tourism boom. And like any explosion, there will be collateral damage, in this case the charm of an old-school world which may soon be washed away by a corporate tsunami. What this means for corporate-meeting planners is that the clock is ticking. Now that the floodgates have been diplomatically opened, streets filled with 1950s Fords and Chevys with big fins are sure to be replaced by top-of-the-line Toyota SUVs, and billboards with paintings of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara will soon be covered over by a 30-foot Tom Brady selling Uggs.

Marriot International President Arne Sorenson is one of many companies eager to do business in Cuba, especially as more Americans travel to the island. “With travel to Cuba now surging, existing Cuban hotels are full and
hotel companies from other countries are racing to tie up as many of the new hotels as they can before the likes of Marriott and our U.S. competitors show up,” Sorenson said in a recent U.S. News & World Report interview.
So for corporate-incentive planners tired of sending their top salespeople to local golf resorts, the timing is just right. Travel restrictions have lifted, allowing ferry services to Cuba, and Carnival Cruises is lined up to set sail
early in 2016. American, Delta and United have all expressed an interest in operating flights to Cuba and, since early July, JetBlue has operated a weekly charter from New York’s JFK to Havana – the first major airline to
do so since restrictions were lifted.

Once Americans are able to travel freely to Cuba they shouldn’t think of themselves as Columbus landing on some previously undiscovered land.  According to a recent article in the Miami Herald, Cuba is already the
second-largest tourism destination in the Caribbean, surpassed only by the Dominican Republic.

With all we know about Cuba, both past and present – and there are plenty of political warts – some Corporate Travel Management companies may still have issues suggesting to their meeting planners and incentive clients
that partaking of the old-world charm of Cuba, before it starts to vanish, is well-worth their consideration.

Because it’s been closed so long there’s still a mystery about Cuba, so the time is right to experience something close to home but still off the beaten path. And Americans have always liked a good mystery. In some ways, the opening of Cuba to the United States, and its potential to be the next big “hot spot” for travelers, both corporate and leisure, is almost surreal.

Once restriction-free travel is allowed for U.S. citizens this island nation will fast become the most popular Caribbean destination for tourism and corporate business travel. And once that happens the clock will start ticking if you want to see Cuba as it was and as it is, before everything old is new again.