Cuba, located just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, has been virtually off limits to Yankees for more than five decades. Although diplomatic relations have been renewed, planners pondering whether to book their next meeting on the tropical island are advised to wait. While Cuba is poised for a major transition, it is not yet ready for prime time.
Hotels and restaurants have delicious mojitos and Cubano sandwiches, but they struggle to find basic supplies due to an economic embargo in place since the Cold War. As a result, four- and five-star properties in Cuba bear little similarity to counterparts in the developed world.
Even at “luxury” hotels, furniture is worn and the towels seem as old as Fidel Castro himself. A historic Havana building might be a magnificent example of Colonial architecture, but it probably has not been painted in decades (and if it did receive a touch-up, it might be in mint green—the only color available).
The friendly, hardworking and resourceful people of Cuba can repair anything from an old fan to a 1952 Ford, but the scarcity of materials leaves everything looking dated. Unlike other civilized nations, the largely literate Cuban population can’t get news online because there is no Internet. This is a No. 1 priority if the country wants to expand tourism in this digital age.
There are other problems, as well. U.S. credit cards are not accepted anywhere, which means that American visitors must conduct all transactions with cash. While U.S. currency can be transformed into Cuban pesos, a hefty percentage is tacked onto the exchange.
It’s also hard to get there. Currently no regular commercial flights operate between the U.S. and Cuba; charters are often overpriced and overbooked. And perhaps the biggest issue is that U.S. policies still make leisure tourism technically illegal for Americans.
Cuba has gorgeous beaches, pulsating cities and a richly vibrant culture steeped in music and art. When it can get ahold of some decent towels, there’s no doubt that it will be a major player in the meetings industry.