Gearing up for the possible lifting of U.S. travel restrictions at the end of May, meeting planners representing U.S.-based organizations are beating a path to the Cuba Convention Bureau’s stand at IMEX Frankfurt, held May 19-21, according to the Cuban exhibitors.
“Since the beginning of the appointment period we’ve found a lot of interest from Americans,” said Frank Delgado Dominguez, a Havana-based sales executive for meetings and events for Melia Hotels International Cuba. “At least more than half have been from America. We are very excited about the news and what this means for the future.”
Dominguez said the Cuba stand has seen visits from meeting planners representing all segments of the U.S. meetings industry, from incentive to corporate and association, and the most asked general questions regarding the destination include the quantity and quality of its meeting facilities and hotels, the best times to visit, and airlift and transportation queries.
Dominguez said that U.S.-based groups should keep their eyes open for a likely announcement at the end of the month that the U.S. government is officially taking Cuba off the State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The Obama Administration removed Cuba from the list April 14, which is followed by a 45-day period for Congress to consider the removal before it takes effect, possibly on May 29.
Cuba has been on the list since 1982, when it was supportive of Marxist revolutionaries, particularly in Latin America. The U.S. has maintained an economic embargo against the island nation since 1960.
Dominguez said that most of the U.S. planners are interested primarily in the capital of Havana, which offers a wealth of cultural and historic sites befitting a city that is among the oldest in North America, founded in 1515. Havana also boasts an authentically “retro” hotel product with top properties still standing from its pre-revolution heyday as a top U.S. Caribbean travel and entertainment destination, such as the National and Riviera, along with top non-U.S.-based brands such as Accor, Mercure, Barcelo, Iberostar and Melia.
In anticipation of the lifting of travel restrictions, U.S. companies are chomping at the bit to capitalize on the opportunity. JetBlue announced earlier this month it will initiate weekly service July 3 between New York’s JKF and Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport on 150-seat Airbus 320 aircraft following the possible lifting of travel restrictions.
“Once JetBlue does it, the rest should follow,” Dominguez said, adding that groups can also access charter flights and ferry service from South Florida to get to Cuba.
Besides the obvious business ramifications of the possible lifting of U.S. travel restrictions, Dominguez said Cuba’s presence at IMEX Frankfurt has also prompted an emotional response from some attendees.
“I had a guy tell me ‘I’ve been waiting 10 years for this to happen—to shake hands with Cuba,’” he said.