Tourism Committee Chairman: Puerto Rico Faces Cuban Competition for Visitors
SAN JUAN – The president of the House Tourism Committee, Rep. Ángel Matos, said that following the “tentative list” of flights to Cuba authorized by the U.S. Transportation Department, consisting of about 20 daily flights to Havana, Puerto Rico needs to be ready to compete for U.S. tourists.
“With the order of the Department of Transportation of the United States, we begin to see the routes from the U.S. to Havana and can make adjustments to our destination offerings with a clear competitive framework from our sister island, Cuba,” the Popular Democratic Party politician said Saturday.
He said New York, Miami, Orlando and Houston are some of the originating cities the islands will have in common and in which Cuba will now compete with Puerto Rico when American tourists decide where to spend their vacations.
Matos emphasized some of the advantages Puerto Rico has over the neighboring island, such as that a passport is not required and the use of the dollar.
“We are talking about 280 flights a year, representing an average of 500,000 passengers who will now have Cuba as an additional destination [alternative] for vacation, and we must be ready. Over the next few days I will hold meetings with both the tourism sector and the government so Puerto Rico continues to be the destination of choice…,” he added.
The U.S. government on Thursday tentatively approved scheduled commercial airline service to Havana from 10 American cities.
Eight U.S. airlines are expected to begin round-trip service as early as this fall between the U.S. and the Cuban capital, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
The U.S. cities are Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston; Los Angeles; Newark, New Jersey; New York; and four in Florida – Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa. Of the 20 daily nonstop flights allowed to Havana, 14 are from Florida.
The airlines are Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United.
Airlines still need to record – and keep for five years – the official reason why someone travels to Cuba, so reservation systems have been revamped to allow passengers to select one of the 12 permitted categories. They include family visits, official business and educational or religious activities.
Foxx said the decision won’t be final until later this summer in order to provide a 30-day public comment period. Last month, the Transportation Department announced the approval of six U.S. airlines to begin service as early as this fall to other Cuban cities. The government’s decision, if made final, would require that the airlines begin service within 90 days of the issue date of a final order.
U.S. citizens’ interest in visiting Cuba has swelled since relations between the two nations started to thaw in December 2014. Nearly 160,000 U.S. leisure travelers flew to Cuba last year, along with hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans visiting family.
Currently, the first commercial flight to Cuba is set to be flown by Silver Airways on Sept. 1 from Fort Lauderdale to Santa Clara. Now that the Havana routes have been announced, one of the other airlines might try to start flying even sooner if final U.S. approval comes quickly and airlines operations are ready.