By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
AS cruise giant Carnival Corporation prepares to offer trips to Cuba, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday that such competition must not be taken for granted and that the country must do more to improve its tourism product.
Following efforts by US President Barack Obama to restore diplomatic ties between his country and Cuba, US-based cruise line Carnival Corporation announced yesterday that it will launch a seven night, “people to people” tour to Cuba beginning in May 2016, pending approval by Cuban authorities.
The move is the latest sign of how quickly the country is opening up to business with the potential of competing with The Bahamas for visitors.
“All of our research suggests there is huge pent-up demand for the Cuba experience,” Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald said about Cuba’s potential as a tourism market, according to USA TODAY.
Asked about the matter yesterday, Mr Wilchcombe said: “Cruises to Cuba will offer more to cruising to the public which would add to the business of cruising. Carnival has a long-standing relationship with the Bahamas that will continue. We continue to improve the product throughout the Bahamas, ensuring that the brand of the Bahamas remains in demand. All stakeholders are cautioned not to take any competitor for granted. Cuba has positioned itself as a tourist destination. The robust and strong US market therefore must be targeted. We expect this.
“The Bahamas is already in discussions with Cuba to engage in a paradigm of changing multi-destination marketing approaches that will in effect promote two destinations for the price of one. We have embraced Cuba and its new day. More than $1 billion people travel per year. The Bahamas’ tourism industry will continue to grow its share of that market.”
Last week, President Obama announced that the US and Cuba has agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals for the first time in 50 years, with officials saying that the US would open its Cuban embassy shortly after July 20.
President Obama has also urged the US Congress to lift its decades-old US trade embargo on the country, an action that would further open economic avenues for Cuba and cause the travel restrictions to that country to cease.
Currently, leisure travel from the US to Cuba via cruise ships is banned under the embargo. However, people whose visit falls under one of 12 approved categories can still make the trip. Some of those categories include travelling for family visits, journalist activities, educational activities, religious activities, humanitarian projects and support of the Cuban people.
According to international reports, Carnival’s new brand that focuses on social-impact travel will begin cruising to Cuba next year – pending approval – and falls into the approved categories.
According to international reports, Carnival’s new brand “fathom” that focuses on social-impact travel will begin cruising to Cuba next year – pending approval – and falls into the approved categories.
Despite such restrictions, Bahamians have been anxious about the impact the eventual opening up of Cuba will have on this country’s tourism market share.
Last month, Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) President Stuart Bowe told this newspaper there needs to be a “collective” response to combat the tourism competition Cuba will present.