Last week, Cuba came into the spotlight following a historic visit from President Obama, the first President of the United States to visit the island in almost 90 years. Furthermore, American owned hotel resort company Starwood became the first American firm to sign a deal with the Cuban authorities since the revolution of 1959. These new developments may be significant for Cuba and America in mending relations between the two countries going forward.
Cuba is the largest Caribbean island and is located South of Florida in the United States. The country may be best known for the production of cigars and Havana rum, and many tourists may visit to experience what remains as one of the only communist countries in the world. Despite being granted independence, Cuba has an unusual relationship with the United States of which may be found on the streets of Cuba today.
In what is known as ‘el bloqueo’ or ‘the blockade’ the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba, which has been in place since the 1960s. The embargo moderates trade including car imports, which has resulted in Cubans using vintage cars from the 1950s to get around. This may also have become a major attraction for tourists visiting the Cuba as these types of cars are now rare yet symbolic of Cuba’s historic embargo.
Despite the opportunity for tourists to view and take a ride in an antique vehicle from the 1950s, before 1997 it was unlawful for foreign visitors to communicate with local Cubans and tourists were segregated in resorts far from the rest of society. To this day, the Cuban government requires in-depth information to ensure tourists are travelling for leisure instead of business in order to retain control.
There are many reasons why the United States may continue to retain control over Cuba, such as their efforts to improve human rights in Cuba and provide assistance to Cuban citizens. However, these may be slowly relaxed over time following new developments such as the recent visit from President Obama. Recent changes have included allowing commercial airlines to fly between the countries beginning nearer the end of this year and allowing Cubans to open U.S bank accounts. These are just a few steps forward in rebuilding a productive relationship between the United States and Cuba, which may improve the lives of Cuban people.
According to a press release from Starwood Hotels, the resort firm signed three new hotel deals in Cuba, marking the first U.S based hospitality company to enter the market in nearly 60 years. This involves taking over and renovating three buildings in Havana to become luxury hotels. The company aims to cultivate local talent, provide career enriching opportunities and locally source art, décor, food and materials to ensure authentic experiences are delivered. This may have a productive outcome for local Cubans as it may increase the amount of jobs in the area. It may also elevate Cuba as an attractive tourist destination and may potentially signal towards change regarding the United States embargo in the future. According to a recent report from The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) tourism accounts for a high percentage of employment in Cuba. In addition to this, Cuba saw a 5% increase in tourism figures between 2014 and 2015, with numbers expected to rise 5% each year onwards. This signals towards a positive future for Cuba’s tourism industry, and may provide explanation as to why hospitality firms such as Starwood have made plans to start doing business in Cuba.
What are the productive aspects of President Obama’s recent visit to Cuba?