Bookings to Cuba jumped 57 percent for one New York tour operator in the weeks after Washington said it would renew ties with Havana. In February, they were up 187 percent; and so far this month, nearly 250 percent.
The boom is just one sign that the rush is on to see Cuba now — before, as many predict, McDonald’s claims a spot in Old Havana and Starbucks moves in on Cubita, the island’s premium coffee brand.
The sense that detente will unleash an invasion of Yankee tourists and change the unique character of one of the world’s last remaining bastions of communism is shared by many travelers flocking here.
“Cuba has a very authentic atmosphere which you see nowhere else in the world,” Gay Ben Aharon of Israel said while walking through Revolution Square. “I wanted to see it before the American world… but also the modern Western world comes here.”
Outsiders may romanticize the “time-capsule” nation, but many on the island are ready for change.
Where foreigners see charming, historic architecture, bright 1950s-era American cars and vast stretches of white-sand beaches, locals see decaying buildings in need of repair, new vehicles priced beyond their reach and a lack of economic opportunity.
For many Cubans living in dilapidated, multigenerational tenements, change could be good. It may expand access to the Internet and the outside world, creating engagement that could bring brighter economic days and, practically speaking, make it easier to fix a leaky roof.
“We’re very excited,” Yadiel Carmenate, a 26-year-old English major at the University of Matanzas who moonlights as a tour guide, said.
It’s unlikely Cuba will see major changes overnight. Talks to take the first steps toward normalized relations are just beginning and there is stiff opposition in the U.S. Congress to lifting the 53-year-old embargo that bars most trade with and travel to the island.
Still, the December announcement appears to have sparked an influx of tourism.
InsightCuba, the tour operator based in New Rochelle, New York, is adding excursions as its monthly bookings explode compared with early 2014.
“It’s a huge surge,” company president Tom Popper said. “Word’s gotten out and people are communicating that they want to go before Cuba changes.”
Report from The Associated Press.