On March 20, 2016, President Obama made history when he became the first American leader to visit Cuba in the post-Cold War era. Prior to his trip, the last American president to set foot in the country was Calvin Coolidge in 1928 – more than 88 years ago. Since the time of President Dwight D. Eisenhower the U.S. has placed an embargo on the communist nation of Fidel Castro. During his visit, President Obama declared the embargo will end when Congress approves the final legislation. Many restrictions are still in place, however.
American companies seeking to do business in Latin America have begun to contact Premiere Meeting Services about the meeting and event possibilities in Cuba. They see our pending new diplomatic relations with this communist country as an opportunity to educate their employees about the Cuban culture. They want to “immerse” employees in the still unspoiled local culture to help them develop a deeper understanding of Cuban and other Latin American markets.
CUBA, HOWEVER, IS NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME
Our first comment to the companies inquiring about meetings in Cuba is… “CUBA IS NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME – but it may be very soon.”
HOTELS AND MEETING VENUES
There are many hotels boasting 400 to 500 rooms, but few offer excellent meeting facilities. They were established as tourist hotels for snowbirds escaping the ghastly European winters. Melia Cuba, however, has modern hotels in Havana, Varadero, Cayo Sant Maria, Holquin, and Santiago de Cuba that are fast adding meeting and convention accommodations. The Paradisus Princesa del Mar, The Paradisus Varadero, and The Paradisus Rio de Oro are all considered comparable to any American convention hotel.
Although Havana is only a 70-minute flight from Miami, there is little regularly scheduled air service. Most air travel is still done through charters. In February, the U.S. and Cuba signed an aviation agreement allowing for up to 110 daily flights to Cuba on U.S. Airlines. The average price of a round-trip ticket from the U.S. to Cuba is currently $717, but could fall to $364 without any travel constraints.
All travelers to Cuba must possess a valid passport, a return ticket, travel insurance with medical coverage, and a visa or tourist visa. Americans are able to travel to Cuba under 12 categories of authorized trips. The Obama administration recently loosened these sanctions, however, allowing Americans to travel to Cuba independently, as long as they complete a form declaring the visit an educational journey. Technically, simple tourism is still outlawed but many exceptions for business and person-to-person travel have been put in place.
Traveling in Cuba is not cheap. While in Cuba you’ll need local currency. When visiting from the states you’ll need the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) which has a 1:1 exchange rate with the U.S. Dollar. The Cuban government imposes a 10% tax on U. S. Currency exchange and many retailers charge a 3% service fee, so the simple act of exchanging money can be quite costly. Never exchange money in the street. There is a third currency that has little value, and you can be easily ripped off. Again, as tourism picks up we expect to see many of these onerous charges disappear.
PLAN YOUR FIRST CUBAN EVENT CAREFULLY
Do not confuse 50 years of depressing communist government rule with the underlying lively Afro-Latin culture of the warm and wonderful Cuban people. If your company is planning to expand to Cuba, and Latin America beyond, there will be no better place to train than Havana, the 500-year-old largest city in the Caribbean. The rum, the cigars, but most of all, the people and their music, may make your event the most memorable in your company’s history.
Let Premier Meeting Services navigate the remaining mine field of restrictions that is Cuban life under a communist dictatorship and expose for your employees the unforgettable richness of the Cuban culture.