Cuba: Travel ban costs US businesses $1.1B a year
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
U.S. tourism companies could take in at least $1.1 billion a year on
trips to Cuba if Washington didn't ban most of its citizens from
visiting the island, officials said Wednesday during a videoconference
with American tour operators.
That figure includes $600 million in sales by airlines, $300 million for
travel agents and $200 million in U.S. tourism-related exports and
services, including food and drink items that could be sold to Cuba as
well as spending on advertising to promote Cuba as a destination, said
Miguel Figueras, a top aide to Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero.
Figueras provided few details on how Cuba arrived at the numbers, but
pointed to a previous study by the American Society of Travel Agents in
asserting that without travel restrictions, 1.8 million U.S. tourists
would come to Cuba annually. That includes some 482,000 Cuban-Americans
visiting relatives on the island, he said.
More than 2 million foreign tourists come to Cuba every year, with the
biggest numbers from Canada, Britain, Italy, Spain and France.
It wasn't clear how much of what Cuba was estimating would be new
business for U.S. tour operators, since many people interested in
visiting Cuba are likely to take trips elsewhere and not simply stay
home because they can't come to the island. Journalists attending the
videoconference were not allowed to ask questions.
Currently, U.S. citizens, other than Cuban-Americans, may legally visit
Cuba only if they obtain a license from the Treasury Department for
government, journalistic, religious or humanitarian purposes.
The embargo took its current form in February 1962 and prohibits nearly
all trade between both countries, although the travel ban was eased
during the Carter administration. Legislation introduced in both the
U.S. House and Senate would end the travel ban, but a series of similar
proposals in the past have never made it to floor votes.
Dozens of representatives from Cuba's government-run hotels, travel
agencies and rental car outlets participated in the video link to a
gathering of a similar number of U.S. tourism executives at a Washington
One U.S. tour operator wanted to know why he couldn't buy Cuban beach
property and build his own hotel — an impossibility in a communist
country where the government dominates all aspects of the economy.
Another asked if Cubans are still prohibited from entering tourist
hotels, a ban that stood for decades but was lifted in April 2008.
When asked about golf, Figueras said the government would like to build
10 new courses. Now, there are just two — a nine-hole course in Havana
and an 18-hole one at the beach resort of Varadero. The government has
talked for decades about more golf courses, but hasn't yet built even one.
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