Business travelers may finally be able to enjoy a Cuban cigar and cup of coffee in Cuba, only an hour's flight from Miami.
It may be only a matter of time before the travel gates to Cuba are open.
After 54 years of hostility, the U.S. and Cuba are negotiating a deal to lift the embargo and travel ban that keeps the American industry – and tourists – out of the Caribbean island, situated only 90 miles from Miami. In mid December, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, announced the two countries will take steps toward ending the years of shuttered diplomatic policies. The leaders reportedly spent a year and a half negotiating the deal in secret.
The announcement marks a momentous development in the U.S.-Cuba relationship. The measures to "normalize relations" are perking up the ears of U.S. travel companies, from hotels to airlines. A variety of international companies already have footholds in Cuba. For example, Spanish hotel chain Melia owns 26 properties on the island. Now U.S. companies are looking to expand their domain.
"Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, so there's some exciting possibilities," Roger Frizzell, spokesman for Carnival Corp, told Fox News.
Opening the Market
For years, only certain people have been allowed to visit Cuba, namely close relatives of Cubans, academics and people on accredited cultural education programs. Roughly 100,000 authorized travelers made the trip there last year, according to Cuban government statistics. The numbers jumped after Obama eased some restrictions in 2009. Officials say all legitimate applications received by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control, the agency that issues licenses to for Cuban travel, will be approved.
It's only a quick trip from Miami, leaving abounding possibilities for business travelers to extend a Florida client meeting and sail to the Caribbean island. A nice Cuban cigar to celebrate? Cuban rum is also prized, and U.S. travelers will be allowed to return with up to $100 worth of alcohol or tobacco. Americans will even be able to swipe their credit or debit cards for purchases on the island, something that was previously banned.
What's the Appeal of Cuba?
Yes, some might argue that U.S. trip-goers can already fly south to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands or other parts of the tropics. But much of Cuba's allure lies in its isolation. There are no McDonald's, no Starbucks. The beaches are clean of American industry, for now at least (Castro nationalized all American business in the country in 1959). If and when the tourism ban is removed, many U.S. travelers will be eager to see Cuba before it becomes Americanized.
Yet as of now, the embargo and travel ban are still in place, so American tourism to Cuba is still illegal. The embargo was established in the early 1960s, outlawing nearly all trade and travel between the two countries. As part of the 2014 deal, both countries released prisoners, the U.S. will scale back parts of its economic embargo on Cuba, and Cuba will allow greater Internet freedom, among other things.
However, the day when you can log online to buy a vacation to Cuba is not here quite yet.
"The ban has to be lifted by Congress," a senior administration official said. "But the President is doing everything that he can with his authority to facilitate travel within the limitations of the law, and we believe that that will lead to a significant increase in travel."
In the upcoming months and years, Americans looking to get a glimpse of the once off-limits Caribbean island might be able to take a trip complete with Cuban cigars, tropical beaches and balmy weather.