By Benedict Mander in Caracas
Published: November 10 2008 02:00 | Last updated: November 10 2008 02:00
Fears are growing that the tourism industry in many Caribbean nations
could suffer if Barack Obama, US president-elect, decides to weaken or
lift the long-standing US embargo on Cuba.
US passport holders are now banned from going to the island. But if
American tourists - the Caribbean's biggest group of visitors - were
granted unrestricted access to what is potentially the region's largest
tourism destination, a "seismic shift" could hit the Caribbean, said
Rafael Romeu, an International Monetary Fund economist who has studied
What exactly an Obama administration will do on Cuba remains unclear.
But any shift allowing US travel to the Caribbean's largest island could
represent the single most significant change in US policy towards the
region and its economies.
While Cuba has suffered from strict trade barriers for the past
half-century, the rest of the region has benefited as a result. Now,
however, they will need to act quickly to prepare themselves for this
large loss in what amount to implicit trade preferences - or suffer the
consequences, said Mr Romeu.
Destinations most vulnerable are those that depend heavily on US
tourists, such as the Bahamas and Cancún. Others that have a higher
proportion of European visitors, such as the Dominican Republic and
Barbados, will be less affected.
Mr Romeu expects a net increase of more than 10 per cent in the region's
visitors as costs of visiting fall.
About 1.4m people visit Cuba each year. But the island is expected to
receive up to 3.5m Americans alone if the US changes its policy