Black Meetings and Tourism

Jan / Feb 2015

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B M & T ••• January/February 2015 ••• 24 T he Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), repre- senting 32 National Hotel Associations across the region, wel- comes the news that the U.S. will soon be easing travel restric- tions on Americans visiting Cuba that have been in place for 54 years. "The freedom to travel is a mantra carried by all of us in the travel and hospitality industry and is seen as a path to better understanding and peace between nations," said Jeffrey S. Vasser, CHA, CEO and Director General of C HTA. Cuba has long been a major destina- tion in the Caribbean for Europeans and Canadians and in the past its local hotel association had been an active member in CHTA. "Over the years there has been much discussion about what the impact will be if and when Cuba is open to U.S. visitors," noted Emil Lee, president of CHTA. "CHTA recognizes that there will be challenges for some of our members in competing with Cuba, which basically becomes a new-found destination for American va cationers," Lee said. "However, we also see another side with the addition of Cuba as an overall benefit to the regional promotion of the Caribbean which would create more awareness for all our member nations and hotels," Lee added. "There will be no shortage of predictions and expectations over the next few months following this historic announcement about easing trav- el restrictions to Cuba for Americans," noted Vasser. "Our role is to embrace all our hotels and allied m embership in promoting the welfare of the region," Vasser said, adding: "Cuba is part of the Caribbean and we expect to assist in the transition to both maximize the benefits and mini- mize and adverse impact on our membership." CARIBBEAN CORNER P resident Obama's announcement of plans to normalize rela- tions with Cuba has a number of positive implications for rela- tions between the two countries. This change in relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will also come with some challenges. From an awareness perspective, this announcement will spark renewed inter- est in the Caribbean region, because there is a curiosity among Americans about Cuba. The opening of Cuba to travelers from the United States may also cr eate 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 U.S. Virgin Islands, where we draw nearly 90 percent of our visitors from the U.S. For instance, we anticipate the cruise itineraries in the Western Caribbean will begin to call on ports in Cuba. We have to continue to do what we have started to remain competitive – augment our proactive marketing efforts, ch ampion infrastructure enhancements, create appealing attractions, and improve our customer service. While entrance to Cuba will require American travelers to have a pass- port, the U.S. Virgin Islands remains an attractive option due to no pass- port requirement. Furthermore, with English being the primary language of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Americans can be comfortable exploring our islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands, along with our Caribbean neighbors, is accus- tomed to competition for tourism spending from emerging destinations. As a Territory, we understand the need to focus on our short- and long- term strategies to build our industry and will continue to invest in the quality and diversity of our product to ensure we remain top of mind among U.S. visitors. However, the maxim "a rising tide raises all boats" should hold true. This news puts the spotlight on the Caribbean region as a whole, widen- ing the appeal for Caribbean v acations and providing a win-win opportu- nity for all. STATEMENT BY BEVERLY NICHOLSON-DOTY, COMMISSIONER OF TOURISM, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS CARIBBEAN HOTEL & TOURISM ASSOCIATION WELCOMES NEWS ABOUT CUBA TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS TO BE EASED FOR AMERICANS Photo Credit: Karel Miragaya Typical street of Old Havana St. Thomas, as viewed from ParadiseTram

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