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Cuba’s growth in the tourism market: threat or gain for other Caribbean nations?

As the number of American visitors continues to rise, Cuba has experienced remarkable tourism income in the recent years and is expected to keep growing in 2017. Authorities of the region share their views on the matter, highlighting the potential to make the nation’s popularity an opportunity to increase the Caribbean market as a whole.

Cuba’s growth in the tourism market: threat or gain for other Caribbean nations?

With the arrival of Americans citizens, Cuba has become the trendiest destination in the Caribbean. International visitors to the island rose by 13.9 percent in 2016 to a record (4 million travellers), a feat that came solely came second to the Dominican Republic (5.96 million). According to Cuban tourism officials, tourist arrivals continue to climb and another record is expected by the end of the present year.

Thanks to the loosening of travel regulations under the Obama administration, US citizens can travel to Cuba if they fit into one of the 12 legal categories, including family visits, religious or humanitarian missions and people-to-people tours. This change resulted in a 34 percent increase of visits by Cuban Americans and other U.S. travellers, with a total of 614,433 visitors.

Nonetheless Americans still cannot visit Cuba for conventional tourism trips. If those travel restrictions are lifted, it could result in 3 million to 5.6 million U.S. arrivals in Cuba according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, it is unclear at this point what U.S. policy toward Cuba might be under President Donald Trump.

If the United States government were to allow tourist travel to Cuba:

“The apprehension of the Caribbean tourism industry is likely unwarranted.”

The IMF concluded:

“The history of tourism in the region has shown that it is possible for all destinations to grow despite large changes in market shares.”

At present, Cuba’s appeal increase on an international scale and the first trimester has already shown promising numbers and significant growth. In comparison to the 13.9 percent increase for the Cuban market, visitors to the Caribbean region as a whole in 2016 increased just 2.4 percent.Though this enviable feat could be viewed as possibly threatening competition for other Caribbean nations, some of the region’s authorities prefer to see it the perfect occasion for them to work together and join forces in the tourism industry.

"Cuba opening up is a fantastic thing for the Caribbean.”

Said St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen M. Chastanet.

“It only strengthens the brand of the Caribbean. It’s more important for all of us to be strong partners. The more Jamaica grows, the more potential clients there are for St. Lucia. It’s the same with Cuba. Cuba is huge into Latin America, Europe and Canada and now even the United States of America. There are a lot of people who haven’t come to the Caribbean and now maybe coming to Cuba will give them the appetite to come to the rest of the Caribbean islands.”

The IMF has stressed that one destination’s gain isn’t necessarily another’s loss. The IMF report stated that over the past 20 years, with the exception of the Bahamas, tourist arrivals throughout the Caribbean have grown, despite rapid expansion in destinations such as Cancun, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Last year, Grenada welcomed 144, 333 tourists, a 2.6 percent increase, and in January, tourists arrivals were up 2.7 percent over January 2016, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Keith Mitchell, Grenada Prime Minister shared his views on the matter:

“I don’t see Cuba as a threat and I don’t believe the region as a whole sees Cuba as a threat. It’s true that Cuba has been growing phenomenally in the last year or so. But what has happened in Grenada is that we also have been growing. Cuba being the giant that it’s going to be now can help us if we integrate our efforts in the region much more than we have done at this point.”

The region’s main authorities now agree that the Caribbean needs join forces in order to improve transportation links to the region and marketing. After years of discussing how the nations should make join efforts to heighten tourism potential, in 2015 the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association proposed creating a Caribbean Basin Tourism Initiative, a collaborative approach to tourism development in the region. Though the idea received positive reactions in the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) meeting, no agreements have been signed or plans made to the date.  

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