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Cuba, the U.S. embargo and Bahamas tourism

There is seldom a gray cloud that does not have a silver lining for someone.

The thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba that began in 2009 under the Obama administration was ended by the recent announcement by the Trump administration that it will restrict non-family travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba and cancel people-to-people educational tours that promoted cultural exchanges between the two countries. This action brings to an end the increasingly popular educational exchange tours facilitated by all the major U.S. cruises lines. The end of the program further dampens the hopes and expectations of improved relations between the long-time adversaries.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba was first imposed in 1960 in response to the communist revolution on the island led by Fidel Castro in the preceding year. Up to that time a symbiotic relationship had developed between Cuban and Bahamian tourism most notably in the cruise sector, as major cruise lines sailed from New York to Havana, stopping at Nassau on their return journey.

Havana’s cruise losses in 1960 resulted in Nassau’s gain, as increasing numbers of cruise lines included Nassau as the principal destination on their travel itineraries; in some instances replacing Havana with Nassau.

While The Bahamas has always maintained its opposition to the U.S. trade embargo, there were few Bahamians who did not experience a twinge of concern when the U.S. government appeared set on restoring normal relations – diplomatic and economic – with Cuba. Paramount in many minds was the impact which a resuscitated Cuban tourism sector, with large scale U.S. participation as investors as well as visitors, could mean for Bahamian tourism.

In fact, the past decade of relaxed U.S.-Cuban relations has not negatively impacted our tourism performance.

Similarly, it is unlikely that the renewed freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations will translate into a marked increase in our cruise numbers. U.S. authorities indicate that they will encourage individuals who had planned to cruise to Cuba to cruise to Puerto Rico instead.

However, the changed U.S. position does open new possibilities for The Bahamas to continue to engage the cruise lines in discussions on expanding their relationship with The Bahamas.

We recall a more than two-decade-old initiative to persuade major U.S. cruise lines to increase the number of their calls and overnight stays in Nassau. A partner to that initiative was discussions encouraging cruise lines to home-port some of their ships in Grand Bahama, the maritime hub of the country.

We think the government should immediately renew such discussions with the cruise lines, the Grand Bahama Port Authority and Hutchison Whampoa given the great potential for increased economic activity that home-porting would bring to the Bahamian economy not only in the provisioning of food and beverage services for the cruise lines, but also in creating increased demand for airline seats for passengers flying in to meet cruise ships, hotel rooms for overnighting cruise passengers and residential accommodation for crew members and sometimes family members between excursions.

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