Rules still exist regarding which US citizens are allowed to visit Cuba but those limits are quickly eroding. Visitors must still meet one of 12 specific categories to be eligible for such travel – theoretically preventing general tourism – but the latest move, again via the Executive branch, is to significantly ease one of those twelve: Person-to-person and cultural visits are now viable for individuals rather than requiring a group to coordinate the effort. From a practical perspective this essentially means that speaking with a Cuban – “Mas cerveza, por favor” may not qualify – or visiting one of the museums in the country should qualify as a cultural experience, legitimizing the trip in the view of the Treasury Department.
With this final significant hurdle cut down and commercial air service set to resume in the near future the future of such travel looks bright. With the pending 20 daily flights carrying passengers in to Havana presumably 2000ish more tourists cultural visitors will be able to explore the city and the country. Cruise ships are similarly planning to dock in Havana with recent conversations suggesting that the port will see a different ship daily as the itineraries are adjusted to add Havana. The country gets 3 million visitors annually today; that number is expected to multiply several times over in the coming years.
I think this is great news in terms of encouraging economic growth and cultural interaction; I love travel for many, many reasons and the sharing of such experiences is a big part of that. But I am also very, very worried about the ability of Cuba to handle such an influx. Havana is already bending under the growth of tourism it faces today, and that’s without this massive increase. And, while I’m sure there are companies hoping to help improve that infrastructure and bring about the changes Havana and Cuba need to grow and thrive, those changes are going to be slower to arrive than the hordes of visitors; it is a precarious situation.
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