IF YOU’RE AN AMERICAN TRAVELER, you’ve probably heard the following sentence: “Ah, I really want to go to Cuba before it gets all touristy and filled up with Americans.” It’s a common sentiment: the sheer amount of money in the American tourism industry means that if a place becomes a popular tourist spot, it’s going to be totally and irrevocably changed in no time at all.
And Cuba’s culture feels, to many Americans, like a time warp. It’s one of the last remnants of the Cold War, filled with old cars and communist propaganda rather than hybrids and advertisements. But nothing survives first contact with unbridled American capitalism, so now that the fall of the Cuban embargo seems imminent, Americans are rushing to see Cuba in its relatively untouched state.
The result is that Cuban services have become completely overwhelmed by the sudden influx of American tourists. Hotels and restaurants that have always had to cater to tourists from Europe and the rest of the Americas are suddenly at full capacity and are strained for food and supplies. And the number of tourists is only expected to go up.
“It’s funny, it’s like Americans are rushing to Cuba before Americans rush to Cuba,” tour guide Tony Pandola told the New York Times. And this is just the beginning. Last year, Cuba had 3.5 million visitors: a record high. That was with a 77% rise in American visitors. So far this year, there have already been a million, and now that the country has been visited by President Obama and the embargo seems to be on the verge of coming down, it’s only going to go up.
Of course, this has also meant a rise in prices. State hotel room prices have risen by a third. AirBnB just recently opened in Cuba, which is helping the country to cope with the excess of visitors. Visitors who don’t find a place to stay, or who arrive at overbooked hotels, may find them paying $10 to sleep in the back of a cab. And the airport in Havana isn’t remotely ready to deal with the sudden influx of flights from America.
The country is struggling to cope with the sudden influx of people and money. The state plans to add 20,000 hotel rooms in Havana over the next four years, and hotels and restaurants are making reservations much further out in advance. The state is also working with American Airlines, who have chartered flights to Cuba since the 90s, to try and cope with the sudden onslaught of flights from stateside. It’s a panicked rush, but it’s the type of rush the country stands to make a lot of money from.
The cliche is to travel to Cuba “before it changes.” In some ways, it already has.
h/t: The New York Times