Why you should go to Cuba now

Written By komlim puldel on Kamis, 18 Desember 2014 | 20.01

The streets of Cuba may radically change should the US lift its travel ban. Source: Getty Images

IT WAS once a haven for sun-seeking Americans with its beautiful beaches, casinos and late night dancing, Cuba was just an hour's flight away from Miami.

However the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro and the subsequent Cold War embargo of the Communist island nation put that to an end.

The US government broke all diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 when Cuba was seen to side with the Soviet Union and nationalise US-owned businesses. This was followed by a trade embargo in 1962 that has remained in place ever since. The relationship between the US and Cuba has been frosty at best with the US banning all citizens from visiting the Communist country.

Cuba was a favourite among Americans for its white sandy beaches. Source: Getty Images

The result of the embargo means that Cuba has been frozen in time, a relic of another era and

confronted with severe shortages of oil, food and consumer goods, which has forced them to ration everything from beans to powdered milk.

But US President Barack Obama made a historic move yesterday, announcing the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and declaring an end to America's "outdated approach" to the Communist island in a shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity.

"These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked," Obama said in remarks from the White House. "It's time for a new approach."

A classic American car drives by a billboard showing Fidel Castro (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan) Source: AP

As Obama spoke to Americans, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana, saying that while the two countries still have profound differences in areas such as human rights and foreign policy, they must learn to live together "in a civilised manner."

For now, the ban on US tourists will remain in place, however it opens the door for future tourism and the inevitability of it becoming "Americanised."

Katharine Bonner, a senior executive at Connecticut-based tour operator Tauck, which runs tours there under a cultural exchange license says Americans are really curious about this country that has been off limits for so long.

It is that isolation, in part, that is so appealing. There's no McDonalds, no Starbucks. Bonner said once travel opens, there will be a rush to see Cuba before its gets "Americanised."

"It's almost like a country that has been frozen in time," she told AP.

The countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilised manner." (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) Source: AP

Will Cuba lose its individuality?

Australian tour operator Intrepid Travel has been leading trips to Cuba for almost ten years. Pete Rawley, Intrepid's Australian Regional Director, told news.com.au that the key will be to preserve its authenticity.

"This unique country is unlike any other destination to travel through — it is completely authentic with a distinct culture, friendly locals, preserved history and diverse environment. One minute you'll be sipping rum on a quiet beach and the next you'll be dancing with a local in a raucous Havana bar.

"As further developments regarding U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations are revealed, we encourage the tourism industry to commit to sustainable tourism and to preserving the sights and culture that make Cuba such a remarkable destination.

"At Intrepid, we ensure that our traveller's experiences are as authentic as possible and this is achieved by staying at homestays and other local establishments, using public transport where possible, eating at local restaurants and using locally based guides. We'd encourage tourists to seek out these local experiences, which will make anyone's time in Cuba a memorable one."

Why you should place Cuba on your travel list right now

No Americans

The Star reported that the easing of relations with Cuba would put an end to the golden age of travelling for Canadians who saw Cuba as an escape from the cold climate and Americans.

"Snowbirds anxious for an escape to a tropical paradise have long been fleeing to Cuba while their American counterparts have been kept off the island's shores by a diplomatic and travel ban dating back more than five decades."

Horse and cart and food markets still exist in Cuba. Source: Getty Images

There's no McDonalds

You won't find a McDonalds, KFC or a Pizza Hut in Cuba, although there are some local fast food chains including El Rapido that serves fried chicken, burgers and hot dogs and Pizza Nova which has several outlets in Havana and other provincial cities.

About 90 per cent of restaurants that cater to tourists are run by large state-owned corporations, the other main dining option is the paladar — private homes that have been given permission to serve foreign tourists that are small and authentic.

However this is set to change should economic ties be reinstated.

"Fatburger began discussing franchises with potential business partners in Cuba more than four years ago," Andy Wiederhorn told AP, CEO of the Los Angeles-based company. Once Fatburger gets U.S. government approval, it could take six months to a year to open the first franchises. Wiederhorn's initial goal is six to 12 stores.

Prices

As restrictions on American travellers ease prices are predicted to surge. While Cuba is not one of the cheapest countries to visit, it still beats a European holiday.

Jury Krytiuk, head of the Cuban travel department at Toronto-area agency A. Nash Travel Inc., told The Star that an affordable holiday in a relatively pristine landscape will be harder to come by in the years to come.

"Prices will surge as restrictions on American travellers ease," he said, adding Cuba will also have to adjust its tourism infrastructure to accommodate an influx of new visitors.

It's common to see stalls selling basics on the streets. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan) Source: AP

What Things Cost in Cuba $AUD

Double room in a provincial city, moderate $60 — $120

Three-course dinner for one without wine, moderate $12 — $18

Bottle of beer $1.50

Mojito $3-$6

Bottle of water (1.5 litres) 85 cents — $1.80

Cup of coffee 30 cents — $1.20

There are only a handful of international hotels in Cuba. Source: Getty Images

Hotels

Hotels in Cuba are either owned or run by the Cuban state or as a joint venture with foreign companies. There are no 100 per cent foreign-owned hotels in Cuba.

A handful of international companies already operate in Cuba. For instance, Spanish hotel chain Melia has 26 properties on the island. But its unique set of accommodation options will change should the US government ease restrictions.

U.S. companies, like Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International — the two largest chains by rooms — say they welcome any future opportunities to include Cuba in their rapidly growing global footprint.

"We will take our cues from the U.S. government, but look forward to opening hotels in Cuba, as companies from others countries have done already," Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said via an emailed statement to AP.

Shopping is a little different in Cuba. Source: Getty Images

Shopping

In the late 1990s the first modern shopping malls emerged in the capital Havana, however shopping in Cuba has more of a local feel, there are no Malls of America here.

You can stumble across some antiques in their national peso shops and treasures in their pawn shops. Known as Casas comisionista, they sell vintage and antique items including furniture, cameras, pocket watches and transistor radios.

The easing of US relations means that giant US department stores could soon find their way into Cuba.

Mortimer Singer, CEO of Marvin Traub Associates, a retail consultancy that helped bring Bloomingdale's to Dubai, says he will be encouraging his clients to pursue opportunities in Cuba. He notes that fast food franchises and mass stores will be the first to open in Cuba, a repeat of what happened in other emerging markets. But he believes department stores will follow. "It will start with the mass market and trickle up," he told AP.

US hotel chains will be eager to infiltrate the Cuban market. Source: Getty Images

You can switch off

About 27 per cent of Cuba's population has access to the internet according to internet Live Stats, which uses information from the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations and the World Bank to estimate the world's internet users.

So for travellers looking for a place to disconnect, Cuba is an obvious choice.

Internet access in most hotels is slow and best avoided. Dial up will cost you around $7 AUD hour and a handful of hotels have wi-fi hot spots for around $12 an hour.

Bringing Cuba up to speed with the rest of the world will be inevitable should the US have more influence.

Car enthusiasts

The era of Cuba's classic American cars may come to an end according to Business Insider.

Since the imposition of the US trade embargo in 1961, massive fleets of pre-revolution American cars have remained on the road meaning it has an impressive collection of relics from the 1940s and 50s.

With economic sanctions likely to be lifted, the Cuban people may soon be able to afford to upgrade to newer vehicles meaning car enthusiasts will no longer be in awe of its Chevy, Buick and Cadillac collections.

Car enthusiasts love Cuba for its collection of old American cars. Source: Getty Images

By loosening restrictions on travel and permitting travellers to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, among other things, Obama may have started a process that can't be reversed.

"It's like putting toothpaste back in the tube," Kirby Jones said to AP, a consultant who has pushed for U.S.-Cuba trade ties. "People are going to get used to travel, used to doing business, used to sending remittances. You can't stop it."

"Once people get a glimpse of Cuba, they always want to see more," adds Bonner. "Americans are very curious about a country that is 90 miles (145km) off our coast but has been off limits for so long."


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