It shouldn’t be a surprise (to anybody paying attention) that the Cuba Travel Industry is really getting crazy. I’ve spent much of the last few weeks trying to arrange custom tours, charter flights, and expeditions to Cuba. It’s now common to hear that some popular hotels are booked up a year in advance, there are many more changes in reservations, and the “low” months of September and October have never seen this many travelers booked for this period. Some charter flights in September are sold out. Demand by Americans will continue to accelerate, as will the prices. It is conceivable that the prices for major hotels in Havana could double in the next few years. If they don’t, Cuba will have to deal with long waiting lists of Americans wishing to visit.
The shortage has become quite noticeable around Havana, especially Old Havana. Although many hotels are under construction and are being planned elsewhere, there are few logical sites around the old city to build new facilities. Cuba is currently converting several well-located, former department stores, into hotels. There are also more plans for visits by cruise ships, which of course bring their own rooms with them. More and more private homes are being converted into casas particulares–bed-and-breakfast inns. A few months ago they began appearing as listings on AirBNB.com.
I remember talking with friends in the Cuba travel industry several years ago. We speculated that there would someday be a crazy transitional period (like now) as Americans re-discovered their neighbor to the south. We joked that the “communist” leaders, which studied U.S.-style capitalism, would eventually figure out this supply-and-demand stuff. Well–they certainly have!
It’s fairly clear what is likely to happen in the next few years. Hotel prices in Havana will continue to rise sharply for an indefinite period. More visitors will be encouraged to visit other provinces west of, and especially east of Havana. This will help redistribute the (tourist) wealth, as they will find much better prices, other fascinating cities, and beautiful countryside. Cuba is a large island, with several distinct districts. It is also the type of place where a significant number of visitors will want to return fairly quickly. Some will come back to visit different provinces. Others (like many Canadians) will likely return every year to their favorite vacation spots.
The energy levels, the push for change, and the excitement in Cuba these days are incredible. Much of it appears to be due to increased tourism by Americans, as well as more U.S. companies establishing themselves in Cuba or expanding their activities there. Meanwhile, the governments of both countries seem to be engaged in an obligatory dance in slow motion. They are stuck just beyond the starting line, while business and tourism run laps around them. With increased tourism by Americans, and investment by American businesses, the governments of both countries will become increasingly irrelevant. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.