By Gabrielle Diepenbrock, Account Coordinator/Social Media Manager
Last March, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge’s visit to Havana in 1928, when he attended the Pan American Conference.
Obama’s visit was primarily to restore relations between the U.S. and Cuba — a relationship severed during the Cold War with a 50-year embargo and a ban on tourism-related travel to Cuba — an island 90 miles from Key West, Florida.
But while tourism-related travel to Cuba is still technically prohibited for Americans, Obama’s administration loosened U.S. travel policy.
Now Americans can go to Cuba, independent of a tour operator, as long as they declare and prove the visit is for educational purposes by planning a visit with the local people.
Previously, Americans had to prove their travel to Cuba was for educational purposes by having a fully booked cultural itinerary, usually set by a tour operator.
With more flexibility being given to U.S. tourists’ educational visits to Cuba, Huffington Post predicts a nearly 50% drop in travel costs. With this flexibility and decrease in travel costs, Cuba is experiencing a boom in tourism as U.S. cultural travelers seek authentic and educational experiences. According to Reuters, the number of American travelers rose 77% from 2014, with 161,000 visitors (not counting the thousands of Cuban-Americans going to Cuba). And that number will continue to increase in 2017.
But of course, you may ask: Why are Americans dealing with the hassle and bureaucracy to travel to Cuba when there are so many other cultural destinations and experiences at their fingertips?
And that’s a good question. The main reason is because Cuba, since the Cold War, has been shut off from American influence. Now, as Americans step into Cuba, they get to experience a blast from the past as if they were stepping back into the ‘50s or ‘60s.
And as trade policy is softening between the U.S. and Cuba, this ‘50s, ‘60s vibe won’t last forever.
As Global Risk Insights says, “There are plenty of Americans … in search of nostalgia and the desire to see Castro’s Cuba before it all changes.”
So, as Americans flock to see “Castro’s Cuba” before the country becomes too Americanized, what are they to expect?
Very limited internet access. Few modern devices and technology. And tons of vintage cars.
According to Newswheel, Cuba is a “rolling car museum” — a classic car lover’s paradise — with old models of Chevrolet, Buick, Ford, and Chrysler roaming around.
The main reason Cuba has all these vintage cars is because Castro placed a ban on foreign vehicle imports. Because of this, the Cuban people have continued using the cars they had when the ban took place. Now, Castro’s brother, Raul, has abolished that ban — so Cubans will begin purchasing newer models.
Cuba also has an increasing number of privately owned B&Bs (casas particulares) and private restaurants (paladares) that provide Americans with an authentic experience of Cuba’s culture.
The tremendous popularity of Cuba shows how important Cultural Tourism is for destinations. People are looking to be educated in the history and culture of a place, and they desire authentic experiences. Cultural Tourism is growing 15% a year! And compared to the average tourist, cultural travelers spend 40% more at a destination ($1,319 on an average trip) and stay 1.8 days longer.
If you are interested in promoting the cultural assets in your destination, check out the services we provide and the work we’ve done. It’s an industry we are passionate about, and we’d love to help your destination get where it needs to be.