PETRE WILLIAMS | Jamaica Observer staff reporter
JAMAICAN tourism interests yesterday predicted a temporary slump in visitors from America if the US lifts its 40-year travel ban on its citizens to Cuba, but said the Jamaican brand was strong enough to ensure an early recovery.
“There is no doubt that the novelty value and other considerations will lure visitors to Cuba whenever the travel ban on US citizens is lifted,” said the Jamaican tourism minister, Aloun Assamba.
But Assamba said that Jamaica was accustomed to competition in the tourism business and was already preparing for the reopening of Cuba to US travellers.
“...Local hotel and airline interests have already established ties with Cuba,” Assamba said. “... We wholeheartedly support the lifting of the US travel ban on our regional neighbour (and) we look forward to establishing strong tourism partnerships, at various levels, that can benefit both our countries.”
Gordon “Butch"s Stewart’s Sandals and Beaches chain, as well as John Issa’s SuperClubs, already operate hotels in Cuba. Air Jamaica and its subsidiary, Air Jamaica Express, also have regular flights to Cuba opening the opportunity for multi-destination tourism between Cuba and its English-speaking Caribbean neighbours.
Jamaicans have for years debated the likely impact that Cuba, once free from a US travel and trade embargo, would have on the island’s US$1.2 billion a year tourism industry. But bills passed by the US House of Representatives last month and the Senate yesterday, which would give effect to this, have begun to seriously concentrate minds—notwithstanding the threat of a veto by President George W Bush.
Godfrey Dyer, head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) agreed with Assamba that ultimately Jamaica could absorb the threat of Cuba, but said the island’s crime problem had to be solved to ensure that this was sustained.
“From the tourism side of it, it could be a temporary setback for us,” Dyer said. “More and more Americans are going to be excited to see what’s there but I think Jamaica will still be able to hold strongly and get its fair share,” he said.
“Once we are able to get crime under control, Cuba, or nowhere can out-compete us,” he said. “... Brand Jamaica is very strong…”