Monday, February 09, 2009


End of travel ban to Cuba in the works, watch out Hawaii

by Larry Geller

Congress is considering lifting travel restrictions between the US and Cuba. A bill is headed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that has eight cosponsors so far and is gaining support.

Even the Catholic Church came out a couple of days ago in favor of lifting the travel ban:

In addition, []Stephen] Colecchi [director of the bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace] expects legislation allowing Americans to travel directly from the U.S. to Cuba to be introduced, a measure the bishops support.

"We see it only as a first step," he said. "We believe more engagement with Cuba is the way to improve human rights both within Cuba and to improve the situation of the people and the freedom of the church." [Catholic News Service, Measures promoting human dignity top concern for Catholic advocates, 2/6/2009]

Meanwhile, the travel industry is salivating over the possibilities, and Hawaii needs to watch out. With occupancy drastically down, opening Cuba, an Obama campaign promise, will further cut into travel to Hawaii.

I've written before about the implications for Hawaii of post-Castro Cuba normalizing relations with the United States. In fact, Cuba can become the new Hawaii. It’s got great beaches, reasonably priced hotels, and you can bet the Cubans will roll out the red carpet for new American visitors. Hawaii could become just a cliché. Heck, they could do hula on the beaches in Cuba if they wanted to, just to emphasize the point.

The American travel industry is just beginning to salivate over the possibilities. Here’s an awakening thought from Arkansas:

Will the United States ease its ban on ordinary tourism to Cuba soon? Among the many anticipated political and economic changes for 2009 and 2010, folks in the travel industry are speculating about a possible opening to Cuba. Although the new administration and Congress have some far weightier problems on their agendas, this one is an interesting possibility. [Arkansas Democrat, CONSUMER TRAVEL: Ports and beaches of Cuba are perfect post-embargo lures, 2/8/2009]

And guess what, other parts of the travel industry are champing on the bit and ready to rock and roll:

Would-be travelers to Cuba might note that TripAdvisor already has reviews for 410 Cuba accommodation options, and La Casa de Ana in Havana is the highest rated B&B. A veteran visitor shared his tips with us in the story, Inside Cuba.

In late 2007, we set off a heated debate among readers when former editor Erik Torkells blogged, Mr. Bush, Let Us Go to Cuba.

Now that the possibility of vacationing in Cuba is edging closer to reality, would you add the island to your travel list? [Newsweek, Cuba: Change travelers can believe in?, 1/30/2009]

I’ll bet the answer will increasingly be “yes!” Particularly for East Coast visitors, visiting Cuba makes a lot of sense.

Estimating the effect on visitors who come to Hawaii from Asia is more difficult. Japan is very sensitive to the latest “boom” and young people like to do what is “nawee” (now-ee). In other words, if Cuba gets hot, that’s where they will go, at least some of them. Trust me, they will go, if Cuba wants them there. When I lived in Japan I saw one boomu after another grab the entire country’s attention. Airlines will by vying for yen and other Asian currencies. Rum and Cuban cigar futures could soar in Tokyo.

What’s good for Cuba is probably not good for Hawaii.

Time to think about diversifying the economy, folks.

Or we could just do nothing and let it all happen to us.


Oh, but I would love to go back to Cuba again - and take the kids this time!

The Delahunt travel legislation is badly needed but it will probably take months to be adopted. In the meantime, there should be no further delay in President Obama using his executive authority to enable unlimited travel and remittances for Cuban Americans and non-discriminatory non-tourist travel for the rest of us (e.g. educational, religious, humanitarian, people to people). This has been called for by 1157 Americans from all walks of life..

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