Although in the immediate future, restrictions imposed by the United States on travel to Cuba could bring an increase in tourism in Puerto Rico, it is necessary to take a broader perspective, including limitations to the commercial exchange that our island has been seeking to join.
So far, as cruise operators adjust the itineraries, it is expected that they will include new stops in San Juan. This is more than convenient for that part of the tourism sector that injects dynamism to the capital city, and also to other places on the island, as passengers take tours or visit places of interest.
Ports Authority Executive Director Anthony Maceira announced that he has already informed the main cruise operators about availability on our coasts to replace the stops in Cuban ports. It seems a logical initiative since other Caribbean islands will be doing the same and will try to benefit from a situation that, although they have not sought, can bring them a boom in visits.
This very week, the Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship that can hold more than 6,000 passengers, docked again in San Juan, it was already here in December 2018. Politeness, cleanliness and easy transportation for visitors -who only have a couple of hours- are among the key factors that make the first impression of tourists and cruise managers who always looking for new itineraries.
Offering the best options, both commercial and cultural, as well as transportation, is essential to maintain and continue to thrive in the flourishing cruise ship industry.
On a broader scale, Cuba has already announced that they will redouble efforts to attract tourists from Europe, Latin America, and Asia that before the opening up of U.S.-Cuba travel enacted by President Barack Obama, were always a priority. If on one hand, it is true that there will be an increase of cruise ships arriving in San Juan, on the other hand, Cuban efforts may intensify in countries where Puerto Rico has recently set its goals too: Germany, Colombia or China, just to mention a few. Cuba has increased its offer of luxury hotels and plans to develop new leisure facilities, such as golf courses.
The freedom of tourists to move through countries that do not pose a risk to their safety or physical integrity must be preserved, not only in the Caribbean region but in every region of the world. It is evident that tightening travel restrictions to Cuba are linked to Venezuela´s democratic crisis and the logistical support that the Cuban government has provided to the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
But in practical terms, in the long run, the Puerto Rican economy benefits more with a Cuba open to exchanges and joint projects in areas that are mutually beneficial, such as technology and science, as well as cooperation in the agricultural industry, or trade agreements within that sector. Even for food security, good relations in the Caribbean region benefit the most vulnerable countries in the region.
We can always think that this is a temporary restriction, and that tensions will diminish once the economic and democratic crisis in Venezuela is resolved. It also seems likely that U.S. interests, that were already beginning to draw investment plans in Cuba, will lobby against this setback in tourism.
Restricting travel of U.S. citizens does not seem right for a country that loves freedom and where new trade relationships should mean economic growth.