Richard Sasso, CEO and President of MSC Cruises USA (pictured here), is one of the cruise industry’s savviest executives and when he speaks it's wise to pay attention. According to a recent article in the Palm Beach Daily News, Sasso’s opinion is that “Even if the United States lifts the travel ban to Cuba, don’t expect Havana to be a port of call for American cruise lines any time soon.”
The Palm Beach paper reported that Sasso is heartened by the recent news that congressional support for ending the American travel ban to the island nation appears to be on the rise since reports by Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church indicate the government there has agreed to release 52 political prisoners. However, while Sasso said he foresees the day when Cuba will be on every major cruise lines’ Caribbean port roster, he is quoted as saying, “Right now, though, they lack the infrastructure and facilities to handle the huge influx of vessels and visitors. It’ll probably take one, two or maybe three years before the necessary developments are completed. Lots of work has to be done. We also have to be sure there’ll be no political backlash.”
Not everyone is happy with the prospect of North American-based cruise ships calling on Cuba some day. Two of my media colleagues in the UK have expressed their opinions in blog articles this week and I must say I was surprised by their negativity. Travel writer Jane Archer said in her blog, “I can't bear to think of the place becoming yet another Caribbean island clone, with overpriced jewellery shops, tacky t-shirt emporiums and liquor stores right by the port so Americans can buy their souvenirs without having to see too many locals.” Ouch. The other writer, John Honeywell, whose blogs appear under the name Captain Greybeard, was a bit less harsh, but stated that his countrymen (who are presently visiting Cuba on UK-based cruise lines), would “be able to tell Mr Sasso—and the rest of the American cruise industry—that the Cuban experience is more enjoyable now than it will be after the island develops the infrastructure he thinks it will need to meet the demands of US passengers.”
Gee, it almost sounds as if the Brits want to keep the Yanks out of Cuba for fear that we’ll “spoil” it by boosting the Cuban economy with our tourist dollars. We wonder who the Cubans would rather have visit. Freely spending Americans who would help to build their infrastructure, or stingy Brits who prefer to see an impoverished 1950s-style Havana remain that way? You decide.