Sunday, April 12, 2009

Can Cuba cope with an onslaught of Americans?

I'd like to go there myself. Full AP story here.

A push in Congress to do away with U.S. travel bans on Cuba could set off a flood of American visitors to the long-forbidden island.

Cuba has about as many hotel rooms as Detroit and most are already full of Canadians and Europeans. Experts say droves of Americans could drive up prices, unleash calls for more flights and cruises than Cuba can handle and force the government to tighten visa restrictions to regulate the stampede. . . .

Cuba plans to build 30 new hotels nationwide to tap into the market for boutique accommodations. Some of those have been completed, but many aging properties have been shut down for remodeling, leaving the total number of rooms flat since 2006.

According to Smith Travel Research, the 349 hotels in Miami and Hialeah alone have about as many rooms as all of Cuba. The city of Detroit, with 42,000-plus hotel rooms, is not far behind.

Even at top Cuban resorts, it is often hard to get amenities as basic as an extra roll of toilet paper. Comforts including apples, french fries and bottled beer are sometimes scarce -- not to mention perks like in-room coffee-makers or wireless Internet access.

And, as in Eastern Europe in the 1970s, international tourists complain about sub-par food and service. . . .

Whitley said the first wave of Americans could arrive by cruise ship and visit Havana only for a few hours, thus alleviating strains on hotels, restaurants and already hard-to-find taxis and rental cars. . . .

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