Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe
By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday the restoration of full diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States provides an “excellent” opportunity for the Bahamas to “focus on improving the quality of our tourism product”.
He added that whenever Cuba completely opens up to the American market, it will no doubt lure tourists with its “mystique” and lower prices.
Mr Wilchcombe told The Tribune that the Bahamas has to ensure that we “tap” into other markets particularly Asia and Russia in order to offset any perceived loss.
His comments came less than a week after US President Barack Obama announced sweeping changes to US policy with Cuba, moving to normalise relations with the island nation and “tear down the last remaining pillar of the Cold War”.
Under the new measures, the US plans to reopen its embassy in Havana and significantly ease restrictions on travel and commerce within the next several weeks and months. The New York Times reported that while the embargo against Cuba remains in place, President Obama has called for “serious debate about lifting it.”
Mr Wilchcombe said he “welcomes” the change and he believes the Bahamas can also benefit from the new arrangement.
“I think for the Bahamas it is a chance for us to focus on improving the quality of our product,” he said.
“We are known as high-end. You have places around like the Dominican Republic that offer lower rates than we do. There is no doubt Cuba will have better rates but we are high-end and we have to ensure that the cost is met with quality. You will find people drifting to Cuba because of the allure, but it is not something that we are concerned about. They were blockaded for more than five decades so there is a mystique, people want to see Cuba today. We have to ensure that we are finding ways to get to the Asian and the Russian markets.”
Mr Wilchcombe said there is also a possibility of doing joint tourism projects with Cuba where tourists can get “two for the price of one.”
He said: “Right now you can fly to the Bahamas and then fly to Cuba but why can’t persons fly to Cuba and then fly here? We can do joint marketing because we consider Cuba a friend and guests can get two for the price of one. We can benefit from their experiences, from their education and health care. Cuba has a lot to offer and we can capitalize on our good relationship with them. I welcome it, and I see it as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Cuba and strengthen our product.”
Last week, addressing parliamentarians in the House of Assembly Prime Minister Perry Christie said the Bahamas must position itself, sooner rather than later, to be a fierce “competitor” with Cuba.
Mr Christie said he spoke to Cuban President Raul Castro last week, who indicated that it would “not be long” before the US embargo against Cuba is lifted. He said he has already started discussions on multi-destination tourism that will benefit both countries.