The latest development in the gradually-thawing relations between the United States and Cuba came earlier this week, when the U.S. announced that the two nations have agreed to resume commercial air travel.
Naturally, we got very excited by this. After all, Cuba has been off-limits to Americans for "tourist activities" for over half a century. Anyone wishing to visit the country has needed a specific reason to do so, such as educational, humanitarian, and "people to people" trips.
Flights Will Be Easier to Book, But Travel Is Still Limited
But does yesterday's policy change all that and open Cuba up to the tourist industry? The simple answer is no; the embargo on tourism to Cuba still hasn't been lifted by the U.S.
However, the new agreement means that commercial airlines can begin operating regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two nations. The U.S. State Department said there could be as many as 110 roundtrip flights per day, which would more than quadruple current traffic. This would include twenty daily flights between the U.S. and Cuba's capital, Havana.
For tourists wishing to travel to Cuba, the most significant change from this agreement will be an improvement in infrastructure and traveling systems. Up until now, travelers have had to book a chartered flight to Cuba, which is difficult to arrange online. The agreement is also expected to eliminate the long-standing (in both senses) tradition of checking in four hours before your flight.
A Stepping Stone to Open Tourism
Thus, the announcement doesn't fling the doors open to U.S. tourism, but it's probably a necessary intermediary step before we get there. Because of the limitations on travel for many years, modern airlines don't have the necessary presence in Cuba to accommodate mass tourism. This gradual move towards normalized relations might allow carriers to build out a working system before the doors are officially open.
Visit Cuba Now, Before It's Overrun With Tourists
While many people would love to see Cuban travel be completely open, some may argue that such a change would herald the end of an era. Skeptics worry that the opening of Cuba to American tourists will diminish the country's unique character and create another satellite state (as Cuba was until relations went cold in the 1950s). In fact, despite the existing limitations, "travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba has surged more than 50% in the past year," according to the Wall Street Journal. Already, tourism has ballooned.
If you want to see Cuba before this happens, then your time might be slowly running out! Check here for current travel requirements and check out our travel deals page for educational escorted tour packages. Our top pick is this Havana, Cuba 4-Night Escorted Tour Vacation for Two starting from $4,358 (low by $1,040; expires January 31, 2016). This package includes comprehensive, guided activities and cultural exchanges including a conversation with a Havana resident about life in Cuba today and their hopes for the future.
This article first appeared in DealNews.