Ken Shapiro // © 2016 TravelAge West
Just a few weeks ago, I watched television coverage of Carnival Corporation & plc bringing its first Fathom ship to Cuba and, like millions of people in both countries, I couldn’t help but smile at the scenes of U.S. tourists arriving in Havana to the cheers of Cuban locals.
I think most of us in the travel industry — and indeed most people in general — share in the happiness that has come from easing travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba. The opportunities for both cultures to learn from each other seem endless. We are only scratching the surface of the travel possibilities available there.
As important as it is for people in both countries to better understand each other, it is only one step in the process of building our relationship. In order to get to know a destination, it’s important to be exposed to the natural beauty and unique geographical features of that place, as well. It’s through these experiences that we can begin to truly cherish a country in a meaningful way, instead of simply understanding it on an intellectual level.
As you can read in this issue’s cover story, “Exploring Cuba’s Wild Side,” ecotourism and soft adventure in Cuba are largely untapped markets for U.S. visitors. For now, most of the tourism focus is on Havana and maybe a couple other cities. It won’t be long, however, before travelers desire to go beyond these destinations in order to experience Cuba’s vast natural attractions. Tour operators and travel agents — who so far have been pivotal in providing opportunities for U.S. citizens to discover Cuba — should start looking beyond historical and cultural tourism and develop interesting, exciting and, most importantly, sustainable adventure tourism activities. If that means lobbying the U.S. government to continue easing its people-to-people requirements, then that’s definitely a step well worth taking.
The poet Gary Snyder once wrote, “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
It’s only through nature that we can ever fully understand someone’s homeland. The next step in the evolution of U.S.-Cuban diplomacy is to gain an appreciation for the island’s many natural gifts, so that together we can make sure that its resources are used wisely and enjoyed by all.