A deal between the United States and Cuba to allow scheduled flights between the two countries was signed Tuesday but it will be quite a few months before flights begin. USA Today reports that flights should start by the fall.
However, those flights are not yet open to most U.S. citizens because federal government rules allow only people who meet certain guidelines to travel to Cuba. The State Department listed a dozen categories including artists and journalists.
However, numerous publications indicate it’s likely that the restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. tourists will end.
Until the scheduled flights begin, travelers in those dozen categories can take charters from the U.S. mainland.
The agreement between the United States and Cuba allows up to 110 daily scheduled flights to 10 destinations in Cuba. About 20 of them are expected to be to Havana.
American Airlines, a major carrier to the Virgin Islands, said in the USA Today story that it planned to apply for a route. JetBlue, Delta, United and Spirit, which all fly to the territory, announced they would also seek routes.
This concerns Bolongo Bay Beach Resort manager Richard Doumeng who said those airlines could utilize planes that fly to the Virgin Islands for the Cuba route.
“I’m concerned about how they will divide up the airplane pie,” he said.
That said, Doumeng thinks that while Cuba’s availability will have an impact on the territory’s tourism product, it t won’t be that great.
“Overall, I’m still thinking that the glass is half full,” Doumeng said.
He said the availability of Cuba as a tourist destination brings attention to the Caribbean region as vacation destination.
“Cuba is going to recharge interest in our part of the world,” he said.
Doumeng pointed out that Cuba has long served as a vacation destination for people from countries other than the United States. However, he said, Cuba offers those travelers mass-market mega resorts similar to those in Mexico and Jamaica. Those megaresorts provide their own infrastructure but the rest of the country does not yet have the infrastructure to accommodate tourists.
“The lights go out. The toilets don’t flush,” he said, adding that it will be a couple of decades before Cuba, other than the mega resorts, is ready for tourism.
And he said the U.S. flag flying overhead and the fact Americans don’t need passports to visit are big pluses in keeping tourists interested in Virgin Islands vacation. Doumeng said he sees many visitors who don’t have passports at Bolongo, particularly those who come for destination weddings.
Doumeng suggested that the territory’s retailers should be worried because cruise lines are likely to start making trips to Cuba from southern U.S. ports. Doumeng said their closeness means the cruise lines can avoid long sea voyages.
Chandru Chugani, owner of Valentine’s Gift Shop on St. Thomas, agrees.
However, how big an impact won’t be known until the cruise lines announce how many ships are going to Cuba or if they will place new ones on that route.
“But there will be an impact,” he said.