Rich Thomaselli | December 19, 2015 10:00 AM ET
On The Fringe Of Travel To Cuba Will Come Commerce
The end of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba more than 50 years ago was overwhelming. Cuba under Fidel Castro became a dictatorship and literally closed itself off. Havana, the capital, became a city frozen in time. Even pictures taken yesterday in the country look like something out of 1959.
Outgoing U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted the trade embargo in October of 1960, and it was devastating to both countries – more culturally and less economically for the United States, of course, but hurtful nonetheless. (Although the good news was, Cuba was mercifully spared the GMC Pacer, Pop Rocks candy, Chia pets, and, presumably, the Kardashians.)
But a year ago, the Obama administration normalized relations with Cuba and the government of Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, and, this morning, the two nations announced an agreement to resume regularly scheduled commercial airline flights.
And you can bet that more than just airlines, hotels and cruise lines are interested in establishing a foothold in Cuba. They are commodities that might be on the fringe of travel, yet still have their foot dipped in travel waters.
Commodities like …. U.S. automakers. Detroit will be tripping over itself to replace the automobiles from the Studebaker era still seen on the streets of Havana. How does it relate to travel? You have to believe that, with only 90 miles separating the two countries, ferry service will someday be a thing. Can you imagine driving your own car around in Cuba, or Cuban taking their cars to America for a visit?
Commodities like …. U.S. retailers. Bienvenido a su vecindario amigable Wal - Mart ! How does it relate to travel? You wouldn’t take a short flight or a boat ride from Key West to Cuba for the day if it meant hundreds in savings?
Commodities like …. The U.S. entertainment industry. You think the automakers will be tripping over themselves? Just watch what happens when the broadcast networks, concert promoters, musicians, all vie to perform the first live concert from Havana. Hello, PitBull! How does it relate to travel? Put it this way – when a friend had an extra Springsteen ticket many years ago and jokingly said, “Too bad you don’t live closer,” I was on a plane the next morning from New York to Chicago.
Commodities like …. Major League Baseball. As we speak there is a contingent of eight pro players, including Cuban defectors Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, on a goodwill tour of Cuba. MLB is hoping to use the mini-tour to parlay that into a spring training exhibition in March in Cuba featuring the Tampa Bay Rays, who hail from a city with as vibrant a Cuban culture as Miami. How does it relate to travel? Major League Baseball once toyed with the idea of having a franchise in Monterey, Mexico; can you imagine a full-blown franchise in Cuba, 90 miles from the U.S. mainland?
The fear, of course, is that commerce becomes commercialization. At the moment, Cuba is not exactly prepared for the deluge that it will face in the coming years. But it’s funny how capitalism speeds that process.
The decision to resume regularly scheduled airline service is just the beginning.
Once the trade embargo is lifted, it will be time to release the hounds.
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