Patria o Muerte, Venceremos! Now, I’m no Communist and I wouldn’t subscribe to Cuba’s national motto of “Homeland or death,” but the opening of the island nation to US travelers and business today is a reason to celebrate for those of us interested in destination brands.
If we think back to the pre-Castro days, Cuba was known for lavish hotels, sandy beaches, music, classic cars, food and, of course, cigars. It may still be like that, but we’ll get a better sense as more American tourists visit and US companies build business there.
Will it be like the old Cuba or some US version of it?
The political ramifications of it aside, the normalizing of relations with Cuba re-awakens the strong pull the nation used to have for many of us, especially with it only being 90 miles away.
It was a true destination, and the myth (or memory, for some) of it is something other destinations can learn from. Like many industries, the tourism and destination market is cluttered with similar messages: Fun, family, outdoors, sights, etc.
The struggles destinations have is in finding what makes them truly different, whether that’s important and how that defines visitors when they visit. Most try to be everything to everybody. As most of us know, that means you are for nobody.
I can only think of a few destinations that really own something. Las Vegas owns sin. Paris owns romance. Cuba once owned adult, although not in the sense of responsibility. Cuba was about tasting the fine things of life exotically, like a rich gangster.
I suspect there will be an initial rush to check out Cuba and the tourism industry there will prosper based on the myth and memory of what it used to be pre-Castro. The fascinating stage will come after the development. Will it seize the place it once had in our consciousness (as a tourist destination, not as a Castro-ruled Communist country)? Or will it become so homogenized that it fails to own anything and becomes another destination lost among all the rest?