Among the many likely winners of the new US policy towards Cuba will be the city of Houston.
As an established travel gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean, Houston is positioned to benefit from any potential easing of tourism restrictions in Cuba.
“There’s a lot of fascination with Cuba,” said Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Houston.”It’s human nature to want to explore that final frontier. … If Cuba opens for American tourism, it’s going to be great for Houston.”
Much is already in place to capitalize on any travel changes that might follow President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that put the U.S. a step closer to re-establishing ties with the island nation. In 2011, for example, Bush Intercontinental was designated as one of the airports that could legally charter flights to Cuba. The first one took off in February 2012 with 80 passengers.
Several charters have taken off from the airport since, but none have flown on a regular basis, Houston Airport System spokesman Bill Begley said Wednesday. He said the airport welcomes the latest changes in the U.S. relationship with Cuba.
“Houston currently is enjoying an unprecedented increase in the number of passengers flying aboard international flights and the possibility of adding yet another global destination to the route map is always appealing,” Begley said in a email.
While most Cuban travel activity is based in Florida, three travel agencies in Houston are authorized to arrange trips for Americans. Observers say the new initiative could lead to regular flights between Houston and Cuba as there is a pent-up demand for leisure and business activity.
“It means daily flights from Houston to Havana,” predicted Philip Howard, an associate professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at the University of Houston. The potential change has him thinking he’ll be able to “take some grad students and maybe undergraduates to Cuba.”
The Houston Airport System has already been working to broaden the Bayou City’s reach to Latin America, citing demand from business and leisure travelers. Several new nonstop flights have been announced in the last year, including to Mexico City, Monterrey and Cancún in Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Santiago, Chile. Southwest Airlines, which is building a new international terminal at Hobby Airport, also recently applied for federal approval to fly from Houston to destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize and Aruba.
“We are very spoiled in Houston. We can have a weekend trip to Mexico and now we have so many other new flights,” Weller said. “Cuba is so close. … It’s something exotic and people will want to try something different.”
I have no doubt there will be daily flights from IAH to Havana, probably within a year of the formalities being worked out. It’s a no-brainer. Energy companies will be right there to do business as well. I know that Texas Republicans are currently goin berserk over this. Gotta say, I think they’re letting their Obama hatred get the best of them again.
Who else will benefit from this? Major League Baseball, for sure.
Major League Baseball said in a statement that it is monitoring the president’s announcement.
“While there are not sufficient details to make a realistic evaluation, we will continue to track this significant issue, and we will keep our clubs informed if this different direction may impact the manner in which they conduct business on issues related to Cuba,” the statement read.
The players’ association released its own statement: “We will watch this situation closely as it continues to unfold and we remain hopeful that today’s announcement will lead to further positive developments.”
Jaime Torres, who has been the agent for numerous major leaguers who have defected from Cuba, told “Outside the Lines” that “this is the beginning of something big, and I was hoping for it shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008. It’s finally on the way.”
However, Torres, who is based in Miami, said that “it’s too early to jump up and be excited” about the potential effects on Major League Baseball.
“I’ve seen what MLB and the MLBPA said, but now we have to see how they proceed and what is done,” he said.
More here, here, here, and here for more. Existing Cuban teams will do well, as any system MLB and Cuba come up with will pay them well for signing their players. The players themselves will do well for the simple reason that they won’t have to defect and make often very perilous journeys to the US to play.
And finally, you will benefit from hearing this classic Irving Berlin tune:
The Austin Lounge Lizards have a great version of this song, but I couldn’t find a video of it. I’m glad I came across this one.