People, Travel

US Tourism to Cuba Taking Off Slowly

US Tourism to Cuba Taking Off SlowlyUS Tourism to Cuba Taking Off Slowly

An expected explosion in US tourism to Cuba will likely take years to materialize even after US airlines resume commercial flights to the Caribbean island this week for the first time since 1961, industry officials said.

JetBlue Airways Corp will pilot its historic flight from Florida to the Cuban city of Santa Clara on Wednesday, the latest step in normalizing relations that earlier this year included a visit by US President Barack Obama and the first US cruise to the island in decades.

The planes may someday be filled with US beach-goers, looking for an economical Caribbean break at resorts favored by Canadians and Europeans on the sandy keys north of Santa Clara, Reuters reported.

But for now, US law and constraints on Cuba’s tourism infrastructure will act as brakes on increasing demand.

Congress has yet to lift a trade embargo that prohibits US citizens from visiting Cuba as tourists. The Obama administration has approved 12 categories of exceptions to the ban ranging from cultural, religious and educational travel to business and visiting family.

Eventually, up to 25 flights a day by various carriers will connect the United States and the Cuban provinces, with another 20 to Havana, under an agreement reached by the two Cold War foes as part of a gradual détente begun in December 2014.

While the direct flights could carry more than a million US residents to Cuba annually, according to John Kavulich, head of the New York-based US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc, he and other experts believe that mark will not be reached for several years.

In the beginning, the new routes are expected to absorb customers from the average of 17 charter flights that Cuba’s government says have arrived from the United States daily for several years.

Over time, airlines are betting travel restrictions will be further relaxed and want to get their foot in the door before Obama leaves office next year.

“While all of the flights are unlikely to operate at capacity, the airlines want to plant their respective flags,” Kavulich said.