CUBA: Is Cuba ready for American medical tourists?
The island of Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida's coast, has had a fifty
year dispute with the USA.The cash-strapped state has suffered from an
embargo that prevents trade with the US.
But with a new president, a new day may be dawning. US entrepreneurs are
planning for the day when the embargo is lifted. Tourism firms have the
promise of new regulations promising greater access. Although
Cuban-Americans have been able to go there since April, the big unknown
is if or when other Americans can travel there freely.
More foreign visitors would provide access to the quick cash that it
needs to jump-start the economy. The island received 2.3 million
visitors in 2008, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. If
the U.S. government dropped its travel restrictions entirely, the island
could expect more than one million additional visitors a year.
The island has about 50,000 hotel rooms, and while it is making
improvements, its phone system, electricity and water supply
infrastructure are struggling. Cuba needs the infrastructure to attract
investors, but it can't pay for the infrastructure until it gets the
Cuba's mild weather, proximity to the United States and surplus of
trained doctors and nurses could make it ideal for Cuban-American
retirees and those requiring long-term medical care.
The Cuban economy has benefited from the promotion of health tourism.
This is despite the fact that Americans, but not Canadians, could be
punished by fines and imprisonment for travelling to Cuba without a
special licence that was harder and harder to get during the Bush era.
The official position is unchanged but in practice special licences are
easily obtainable now and penalties are not imposed.
Cubanacan Turismo y Salud (Cubanacan Tourism and Health), the state
owned travel and tourism agency oversees more than 25 of Cuba's hotels,
luxury resorts, restaurants, and other tourism properties used by health
tourists. Sol Melia manages a quarter of the hotel stock but all hotels
Although the citizens of Cuba are often ill-afforded a decent standard
of healthcare, health tourists are offered top level care at prices that
are often far below those in North America. All overseas medical tourism
agencies have to go via Cubanacan Tourism and Health. The company varies
in how many overseas patients it says it deals with, as the answer can
depend on which country you are from. Figures vary from 3500 to 9000
patients, from 40 countries.
Cuba says it can handle the surge of American travellers expected if
restrictions to the island are lifted. The number of American visitors
would increase slowly if the ban were lifted because it would take time
for airlines to develop routes and for operators and agents to put
together Cuba packages, Cuba plans to build 30 new hotels with 10,000
rooms by 2014, regardless of whether or not the travel ban is lifted.
Cuba has a network of specialist medical and health centres that deal
with foreign clients, but bed capacity is limited.
Is Cuba ready for American medical tourists? (1 October 2009)