Theres been a quiet but relentless transformation in the Cuba Travel sector over the past 2 years. Cubas Ministry of Tourism, better known via the acronym MINTUR, has slowly limited access to the U.S market by prohibiting all national service providers from selling to Americans. That is, besides Havanatur. Havanatur is a wholly owned Travel company managed directly by Cubas Ministry of Tourism bosses. Yes, in 2015 the stage is now set for Havanatur to be the sole agency authorized to sell to American travelers in Cuba. The timing would appear to be uncanny, especially since President Obama has stated unequivocally that travel to Cuba from the United States is Go. Either MINTUR knew about these upcoming changes well before their announcement on December 17th 2014 or, it was a pure fluke.
Many travel professionals in Cuba think that talks between Cuba and the U.S have been ongoing since 2013 and, a case could be made for that to be true. After all, it was in 2013 when Havanatur banished over 45 long standing foreign travel agencies from its roster of locally based agencies, bringing the number to just 5. Of course, it could simply be a coincidence but, it sure looks suspicious. Either way, the situation is now clear; Havanatur is Cubas sole travel agency for the American market, at least for the foreseeable future.
The dilemma for Cubas MINTUR would appear to be foreign owned travel agencies that hold Havana Chamber of commerce licenses and, as such, are outside of MINTUR´s legal jurisdiction. These agencies appear to be overruling the Cuban governments intentions to centralize American visitors into a sole entity. Some of these agencies have made direct and visible plays for the American market in recent months, essentially countering Havanatur´s nascent U.S dominance. How long this will be tolerated remains to be seen. One official at MINTUR stated we´re aware of legacy agencies who hold chamber (of commerce) licenses and these are being watched closely.
What watched closely means exactly could be anyones guess. A person close to the Cuban national employment agency Acorec, who was not authorized to comment, said changes are underway which may include taxation of these essentially Cuban companies who are operating under the guise of foreign companies. If this is correct, it could be one of the strategies used to eradicate these companies or revoke licenses approved well before the seismic change in U.S Cuba relations.
The Havanatur brand Celimar, named after a nondescript town within the province of Havana, has technically become the sole U.S based provider of travel to Cuba, authorized both in the United States and Cuba to deal with the U.S market. Yet in recent events across the United States, its become acutely clear that Cubas Chamber of Commerce registered foreign owned agencies are going to put up quite a fight for a segment of the new and lucrative American market. Unusually, Havanatur Celimar appears to be allowing this to happen, despite it contradicting the directives from Cubas MINTUR. Another hypothesis is that some of these chamber of commerce registered travel agencies have been Cuban controlled all along, thinly disguised as foreign managed to overt U.S sanctions.
But what will happen to these agencies when these sanctions are revoked? Obama is clearly pursuing a relaxation of these sanctions by removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The upcoming months, allied to Cubas removal from the infamous list, which incidentally includes Iran, Sudan and Syria, could reveal the final strategy concerning tourism from the United States of America to Cuba.Senator Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Ileana Ros Lehtinen have long been ardent detractors of Obamas Cuba policy. Their famous rants on the senate floor being, the regime will use dollars from the U.S to fortify itself. A government controlled centralization of the profitable U.S travel market could be exactly what they had in mind