Looking out from a 7th floor balcony of a Bed and Breakfast in downtown Havana, a tourist can sense the quiet and peaceful atmosphere as they observe Hotel Presidente in the distance (Front page photo).
Visitors to the largest Caribbean Island of eleven million residents during the week of November 31 to December 7, would have found a tranquil Cuba as the country mourned the loss of their revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, who passed on November 30.
However, they should not be misled by the quiet economic activity as it appeared on those days, but be prepared to see the Spanish-speaking country regain its place as a top tourist destination in the near future.
Cuba has been going through a transformation during the past few years as investors welcomed the ‘opening up’ of this nation coupled with the re-opening of the US embassy in 2015.
In August 2015, our London correspondent Mike Jarvis flagged up this transformation as he wrote that Cuba as a regional economic powerhouse will not happen overnight but the repercussions for the Caribbean could very well be more immediate.
The first line of impact will be tourism; US tourist dollars diverted to Cuba away from the rest of the Caribbean.
The curiosity and novelty factor is an irresistible market force. Market? Yes! Communist Cuba has no intention of morphing into your next-door democracy.
China hasn’t. In fact, despite the recent turbulence in its financial markets (isn’t it amazing and amusing how that capitalist word ‘market’ keeps popping up quite incongruously in the communist sphere?) China maintains firmly entrenched in its communist systems and beliefs.
Expect Cuba to follow the same path, he wrote, pointing to a likely explosion of growth unleashed by the restoration of diplomatic ties with its longtime nemesis the United States, but even more importantly, the lifting of the US-imposed trade embargo.
Those boxes are already being ticked although it's still somewhat unclear exactly what policy a Trump policy will pursue towards its neighbour just 90 miles from Florida.
However, slightly further away but with much closer ties in many respects are the Cayman Islands.
With only 272 miles of ocean between Cuba and the Cayman Islands and forty-five minutes flying time from Georgetown to Havana, residents and business owners will be wise to be concerned with the impact that Cuba’s tourism growth will have on our economy.
Caymanian Times sent a reporter to Havana to find out why tourists would have chosen to visit Cuban rather than the Cayman Islands.
The answers were mixed and interesting but the top reasons that were driven by curiosity included architecture, culture, entertainment, cuisine, history and according to a group of British tourists, the need to visit before the Americans arrive.
The Americans are indeed arriving and travellers can be seeing waiting to board flights from Florida to Cuba on a daily basis.
A city tour around the capital Havana, will reveal huge investments and upgrades to historic sites surrounded by four and five star hotels. The air-conditioned coaches and their bi-lingual tour guides give a first-class experience that is comparable with tours in 1st world countries.
The cigar and rum factories are frequently overcrowded as visitors line up to purchase these traditional items for much lower prices than they are accustomed to paying in other countries.
Cuba is known for its history dating back to 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. For some visitors, their visit is a real-life history lesson, and for retirees who seek to travel in their senior years, this Spanish-speaking Caribbean destination has the strongest attraction.
The passing of Fidel Castro may have added fuel to fire up the awakening of a sleeping giant as this world event will increase the urgency of making a visit to Cuba. Many Cuban residents are concerned with the future of this nation but their concerns may be settled with positive development as tourists flock to their shores.
Residents of the Cayman Islands should also be concerned but should also take advantage of the economic activity next door by attracting the European visitors that travel for hours to visit the Caribbean. As we welcome the arrival of the new 737- 800 addition to the Cayman Airways fleet, one can see opportunities of linking travel packages with a Cuban element, for example, 24 – 48 hour excursions from Cuba for the longer stay, long haul European tourists to Cuba.
Pictures speak a thousand words and we are delighted to share a collage of photographs which highlight the awakening of the sleeping giant.