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Cuba Normalization Could be 'Win-Win' for Territory

Plans to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba is a "win-win" opportunity for tourism in the U.S. Virgin Islands and across the region, according to Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty.

President Obama announced on Wednesday plans to normalize relations with Cuba. The U.S. has led a travel and trade embargo with the nation since the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro led a revolution that installed a communist government on the island 90 miles from Florida. Wednesday’s announcement, while not ending the travel ban, signals the start of a warming of the relationship between the two countries.

“This change in relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will also come with some challenges,” Nicholson-Doty said in a statement issued Saturday.

While the opening of Cuba to just-plain-folks vacationers is anticipated, it won’t happen anytime soon. A list of a dozen approved reasons to visit include family visits, humanitarian activities, research, and religious reasons but the usual sun, sand and sea tourists who make the Virgin Islands and other tropical locales their destination isn’t on the list yet.

According to the White House, travelers in the 12 authorized categories of travel to Cuba will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.

Nicholson-Doty said the opening of Cuba to travelers from the United States may create increased competition for visitors to the Caribbean. Though the rest of the world has long had access to visit Cuba, this change could have a significant impact on the territory, which draws almost 90 percent of its visitors from the United States.

For instance, Nicholson-Doty said she anticipates the cruise ships in the western Caribbean will begin to call on ports in Cuba. She said the Virgin Islands, along with its Caribbean neighbors, is accustomed to competition from emerging destinations.

“We have to continue to do what we have started to remain competitive – augment our proactive marketing efforts, champion infrastructure enhancements, create appealing attractions, and improve our customer service,” she said.

She said the territory needs to focus on its short- and long-term strategies to build the industry.

“We will continue to invest in the quality and diversity of our product to ensure we remain top-of-mind among U.S. visitors,” she said.

While entrance to Cuba will require American travelers to have a passport, Nicholson-Doty said the U.S. Virgin Islands remains an attractive option because passports aren’t required for American citizens. Further, she said, since English is the primary language of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Americans won’t face a language barrier while exploring the territory.

According to Nicholson- Doty, the potential for vacations in Cuba has positive implications.

From an awareness perspective, this announcement will spark renewed interest in the Caribbean region because there is a curiosity among Americans about Cuba. The maxim, "a rising tide lifts all boats," should hold true.

“This news puts the spotlight on the Caribbean region as a whole, widening the appeal for Caribbean vacations and providing a win-win opportunity for all,” Nicholson-Doty said.

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