Posted on 12/05/2017

#Culture #Cuba

Fears for Cuba: American visitors set to increase seven fold by 2025

Cuba is a 'huge opportunity' for travel companies, according to a new report. The number of American visitors could increase seven times by 2025.

"Huge opportunity" for the US market © kmiragaya/123RF

According to a new report, American visitors to Cuba could increase by seven times by 2025. This will place an immense strain upon the Carribean island's already-lacking infrastructure, sparking fears for the future of the country as US investors make their mark.

The report was carried out by the Boston Consulting Group. It states that Cuba represents a "huge" but complex opportunity for US cruise, airline and hotel companies, as American tourist numbers are constantly increasing.

The BCG report, published on Wednesday, has found that as many as 2 million Americans could visit annually in the future, up from the some 285,000 who made the trip last year. Cuban Americans were not taken into account.

Tourism infrastructure on the island is in dire need of development, meaning that there are an abundance of business opportunities for US companies. However, with this growing influx of visitors, it is imperative that they consolidate a way around the centrally-planned economy.

Travellers from the US to Cuba have been tentatively increasing over the last two years since the former Cold War allies declared a détente and Obama's administrative steps reduced travel restrictions to the island.

The report read: "The reality is that U.S. travel to Cuba is in its nascent stages, and all the players are still learning how to make it work.

"Success, as with most things Cuban, will require unusual - and often unorthodox - approaches."

BCG has not however touched on the current uncertainty regarding President Donald Trump's stance on the matter. He has previously threatened to row back on the normalisation of relations.

Cuban government authorities aim to double hotel capacity by 2030 through alliances with foreign companies. At the moment, Starwood is the only US hotel company to operate on the island.

However, the report noted that encouraging a mindset of hospitality in tourism workers (mostly state employees on low wages) could prove challenging amidst new-found pressure to provide for swarms of visitors. Poor customer service has been received poorly among visitors at establishments where the rooms were "extremely expensive for the region."

"The risk is that US travellers who visit Cuba and stay at a hotel that is part of a brand they trust will experience prices much higher than usual - and more customer service," the report read.

BCG said that there was also an opportunity to expand cruise lines to Cuba. Nearly two thirds of US travellers who took part in a survey said that they would be interested to embark upon one to Cuba. Several US cruise operators have launched cruise lines to the island within the past year.

According to the report, it is evident that they have to tackle different challenges on their trips, such as including a cultural element to comply with US government rules on travel to Cuba. For this reason, US companies must cooperate with the Cuban government to find solutions for these issues.

Airlines will now need to adjust to excess demand for flights to Havana. BCG has advised that they could consider carrying out campaigns to encourage Americans to other Cuban cities.

While this occurs, another priority is to ensure that this boom in Cuban tourism continues sustainably. Not only does the island lack necessary infrastructure to deal with the demand, but restaurants buying up food supplies means that the locals themselves can't afford it.

In February, Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel said that "tourists are literally raiding food off the plates of the Cubans."

He added: "Cuba has been sold in the past few years with the line, 'You'd better get there quick before the Americans visit in big numbers.' It's proved to be a very effective marketing strategy because there is a genuine fear that Cuban culture, which is so attractive in part because it hasn't be changed by tourism, is about to suffer.

"While many in Cuba live in poverty and need income from tourism, some forms of tourism, such as cruises, return little to local people. Cuba needs responsible forms of tourism and would be wise to note how Venice and Barcelona are reeling from the effects of overtourism which detracts from both local people's and tourists' experience of a destination. Cuba is a prime overtourism candidate and needs to avoid that."