Analysis: The Cuba travel bubble is popping
At the height of the Cuba travel frenzy, unleashed by the restoration of
diplomatic relations and relaxed U.S. travel rules, not a day went by
without an onslaught of photos on social media of americanos cruising
Havana in antique convertibles and puffing on cigars. The island was
pronounced awesome, unique — a must see. The U.S.-born could buy an
instant visa at the airline counter and hop on a plane to Havana for the
weekend as if it were the Bahamas.
The rush had airlines and cruise lines salivating at the business
opportunity. American, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, and Silver
Airways began flying commercial to the island from Miami, Fort
Lauderdale and Tampa. And on the seas, Miami-based Carnival Corp.
launched the first cruise to sail to Cuba since 1961.
But the bubble is popping.
Despite the start-up fanfare, lofty pronouncements and bargain pricing,
the roster of commercial flights to cities throughout the island didn't
hold up for more than a few months. Two airlines canceled service, while
others cut flights. And, after a year, Carnival is ending its Fathom
line sails to Cuba in June.
It's Economics 101: supply and demand. And no, despite the cruise ship
industry's new spin — adding Cuba ports of call is being heralded as
"the next wave of travel to Cuba" — it's not going to fix the myriad
shortcomings that tempered the initial enthusiasm.
JetBlue flew the first commercial flight from Orlando International
Airport to Havana, Cuba. (Video from Fox 35 Orlando)
Blame over the lack of greater demand sits squarely with the paranoid
and repressive Cuban state, which fails to modernize politically and
economically, no matter how much this country and the rest of the world
opens up to it. There's no way off the revolutionary hamster wheel that
doesn't let Cubans thrive. Repression isn't good for business.
In addition, Cuba made a huge strategic mistake in the way it handled
the U.S opening.
Cuba banked on American tourists (a miscalculation for many reasons),
the friendly Obama administration (term-limited), and a Hillary Clinton
win when it should have been courting, not shunning, its base market —
Cuban Americans — and making it easier for them to return home.
We have the innate interest, the purchasing power, and a multitude of
reasons — including solely for the sake of helping fellow Cubans — to
travel to Cuba frequently. Those flights to Trinidad, Cienfuegos or
Holguín might have filled up, but we don't have the stomach for
repression. And when the Obama administration, for good reason, posted
the travel warning that Cuban Americans didn't enjoy rights as U.S.
citizens on the island, it was the equivalent of a "Do Not Visit" sign.
On the other hand, while American travel providers were trying to entice
customers with competitive pricing, Cuba began charging Europe-sized
prices for third-world fare that comes with a heap of propaganda. Add to
all that an infrastructure inadequate to handle the 615,000 visitors
from the U.S. last year and it's not exactly the recipe for repeat visits.
Meanwhile, one thing hasn't changed. Cuba keeps harassing, beating,
detaining, and jailing political opponents without trial, and when there
is one, without a proper defense. A U.S. human-rights lawyer who
attempted to help ended up in the slammer.
It kind of tempers the appetite for cultural exchange.
For the past two years, Cuban Americans watched Americans play in our
homeland — and we moved on; so much to see in the world, so little time.
Turns out Cuba could've used our business.
Cuba fatigue. Now it's real for all.
Source: Analysis: The Cuba travel bubble is popping - Orlando Sentinel -