As you may recall, in December of 2015, the 26 North Team took a trip to Cuba to explore the new opportunities that the normalization of relationships between our two countries might present to the marine industry.
Now, that the those steps toward normalization are that much closer, let’s take another look at what our island neighbor just 90 miles to the south, may have to offer!
After the first of two “fact-finding” missions to the Island, the export director of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Julie Balzano, told the publication Trade Only Today, “If and when US. boaters would be allowed to go to Cuba by boat, I think probably there is enough infrastructure in place at the moment, though I think it would be basic for American boaters visiting Cuba. I think they may struggle a bit with fueling stations in marinas for example.”
Since she made that statement, the Obama administration released new rules surrounding travel to Cuba, which included traveling to Cuba by boat, whether for hire or for recreation. This puts boating on parity with other forms of transportation, which initially was restricted to air travel only. Boat travelers still must follow all current guidelines and travel purposes, however this announcement was a big step forward for the entire boating industry.
During our trip to Cuba in December, we saw that the infrastructure challenges that Balzno mentioned still exist, but efforts to improve and upgrade marinas abound.
Private Yacht Charters to Cuba Begin!
As travel restrictions between the US and Cuba have eased, we are excited to announce that we are one of the first companies in South Florida to add Cuba to our growing list of charter experiences. Please watch our site for some exciting charter itineraries and special packages to Cuba beginning this month!
South Florida Marine Opportunities
The easing of relations between the US and Cuba will present many opportunities for the marine and yachting companies like ours based here in South Florida. South Florida yacht owners and other boating enthusiasts are already familiar with how easy it is to access other nearby destinations such as the Bahamas and Bimini.
As restrictions ease, and we can “sell Cuba” as a tourist destination on par, or even better than those, and only a mere 90 miles away – Cuba tourism should be a major boom the entire South Florida marine industry.
At the beginning of this year, the White House announced plans to restore commercial air travel to Cuba via the major airlines. It is only a matter of time till Americans are able to freely travel to Cuba strictly for tourism.
With the announcement of the restoration of commercial flights, of course, most people will want to travel by air. But, given the extent of the boating community her in South Florida, I think we can find many creative ways to make travel by boat to Cuba very attractive. There was a time when there was a regular ferry service between Key West and Cuba. Several local entrepreneurs are already trying to get a jump on restoring such a ferry service.
Besides the fascination of traveling to a place that has been “off-limits” for decades, one of the other things Cuba has going for is ecotourism. According to Dan Whittle, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Cuba Program, “Cuba’s approach to conservation and environmental protection is already a model for other Caribbean nations. The country is now positioned to be a regional model also for sustainable economic development.” If that can be maintained, according to Whittle, Cuba has a major opportunity to be more than just another Caribbean port for typical tourism.
Cuba also has some of the most beautiful marine parks and preserves on the planet. The Jardines de la Reina Marine Park is a true ecological treasure. It is considered one of the world’s most well-preserved marine areas, and attracts thousands of divers each year.
Whittle says that if the island can “scale up its small and exclusive ecotourism industry, Cuba can stimulate investment and create jobs, while preserving the coral reefs and big fish that make it one of the world’s most special places.”
More Than Cigars
Back in March, at the Superyacht Summit, a panel entitled, Cuba: The Last Frontier, concluded that “once Americans are free to visit, the impact on yachting — not to mention the island — will be enormous.”
That still remains to be seen. However, having traveled there first hand, and keeping my ear close to the pulse about lifting the embargo and completely normalizing relationships between our countries, I can say that Cuba has a lot more to offer Americans, and American businesses than just cigars!
Completely normalized relations with Cuba will benefit more than the yachting industry.
Believe it or not, Cuba has one of the most advanced biotech and medical industries in the world. The Cuban government has invested greatly in medical research and a surprising number of breakthrough treatments, and new therapies have come from Cuban labs.
An end to the embargo could make these products available to millions of Americans suffering from a range of diseases and conditions.
There is also amazing opportunities for Art and Cultural exchanges between our two nations. Even under current conditions, US musicians have performed at Cuban jazz festivals, and Cuban bands have performed on US stages. From ballet and fine arts to film festivals, US and Cuban artists have managed to create inspiring collaborations despite the current limitations. The easing of restrictions will see much more of the same.
However, despite President Obama’s announcement to visit the Island later this month, the first US sitting President to do so in decades, it will still take an act of Congress to lift the 50 year old embargo, and any action taken on that, is unlikely to happen until after the 2016 election.