U.S. tourism companies could take in at least $1.1 billion a year on trips to Cuba if Washington didn’t ban most of its citizens from visiting the island, officials said Wednesday during a videoconference with American tour operators.
That figure includes $600 million in sales by airlines, $300 million for travel agents and $200 million in U.S. tourism-related exports and services, including food and drink items that could be sold to Cuba as well as spending on advertising to promote Cuba as a destination, said Miguel Figueras, a top aide to Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero.
Figueras provided few details on how Cuba arrived at the numbers, but pointed to a previous study by the American Society of Travel Agents in asserting that without travel restrictions, 1.8 million U.S. tourists would come to Cuba annually. That includes some 482,000 Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the island, he said.
More than 2 million foreign tourists come to Cuba every year, with the biggest numbers from Canada, Britain, Italy, Spain and France.
It wasn’t clear how much of what Cuba was estimating would be new business for U.S. tour operators, since many people interested in visiting Cuba are likely to take trips elsewhere and not simply stay home because they can’t come to the island. Journalists attending the videoconference were not allowed to ask questions.
Currently, U.S. citizens, other than Cuban-Americans, may legally visit Cuba only if they obtain a license from the Treasury Department for government, journalistic, religious or humanitarian purposes.
The embargo took its current form in February 1962 and prohibits nearly all trade between both countries, although the travel ban was eased during the Carter administration. Legislation introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate would end the travel ban, but a series of similar proposals in the past have never made it to floor votes.
Dozens of representatives from Cuba’s government-run hotels, travel agencies and rental car outlets participated in the video link to a gathering of a similar number of U.S. tourism executives at a Washington hotel.
One U.S. tour operator wanted to know why he couldn’t buy Cuban beach property and build his own hotel — an impossibility in a communist country where the government dominates all aspects of the economy.
Another asked if Cubans are still prohibited from entering tourist hotels, a ban that stood for decades but was lifted in April 2008.
When asked about golf, Figueras said the government would like to build 10 new courses. Now, there are just two — a nine-hole course in Havana and an 18-hole one at the beach resort of Varadero. The government has talked for decades about more golf courses, but hasn’t yet built even one.
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