Simon Calder: US election is key to Cuban tourism

Simon Calder, travel editor, The IndependentSuper Tuesday: no, not the way you feel as you bound into the office on the second day of each working week – but the toughest day in the US presidential race.

February 5 will be the date on which the men, and woman, hoping to become the most powerful individual in the world learn what the people really think of them. In at least 22 states, Democrats will decide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, while Republicans bicker over their best shot to replace George W Bush.

What, you might wonder, does this tortured democratic process have to do with the travel industry? Surely us Brits flock to Florida’s theme parks and California’s highways regardless of who’s in the White House?

True. But the next leader of the free world is likely to have a dramatic effect on travel in the Caribbean.

One place where they will be watching Super Tuesday intently is Cuba. Fidel Castro has been no fan of the democratic process since he took control nearly half a century ago. He has seen no fewer than 10 US presidents come and go, all so opposed to his Communist regime that they have backed the rules that effectively prevent 300 million Americans visiting the nearest, biggest island in the Caribbean.

Familiar US brands, from Marriott to McDonald’s and Sheraton to Starbucks, are not allowed to trade in Cuba, because this small and impoverished country is regarded as an enemy of Washington DC. But while the US Congress has done its best to stifle tourism to Cuba, Fidel has been busily luring Canadians, Italians and Brits.

I bet you 10 pesos to 10 dollars that whoever is inaugurated in Washington a year from now will make history as the president who makes peace with Cuba. Then, the floodgates will open.

As soon as 300 million Americans are able to explore the Caribbean’s most beautiful island, rather than flying over it en route to elsewhere, the US trade will start outbidding Europe for beds. Prices will rocket for a fortnight on the beach in Varadero, or exploring Cuba’s exotic towns and country.

But we will have plenty of choice elsewhere in the Caribbean, because islands from Antigua to Aruba will find themselves with plenty of spare inventory. To benefit from this seismic shift in tourism, start brushing up now so that you can tell your Barbados from your Barbuda – on Super Tuesday, or any day of the week.

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