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Study Reveals US-Cuban Thaw Won't Bring More Americans to the Island

© AP Photo / Wilfredo LeeCharter flights from Miami to Havana are shown on a departures monitor at Miami International Airport, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015 in Miami
Charter flights from Miami to Havana are shown on a departures monitor at Miami International Airport, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015 in Miami - Sputnik International
In the wake of loosening US restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, the US travel industry has become enthusiastic about the potential of the island, but aviation-related consultant BoydGroup International predicts it will only have an isolated near-term effect and that the country is years away from becoming a huge destination for Americans.

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MOSCOW, January 17 (Sputnik) – Americans became officially allowed to visit Cuba without the express permission of the US federal government for the first time in over half a century on Friday.

The US has eased its travel and trade restrictions against the island as part of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries.

Between 1915 and 1930, Havana attracted more tourists than any other destination in the Caribbean. The changes the US has put into effect suggested that more Americans would soon be making that trip again.

However, BoydGroup International (BGI), an aviation-related consulting firm, has suggested that this enthusiasm is immature. In a study released on Friday, the company cleared the fog around what opportunities Cuba represents for the US.

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Any spike in traditional leisure or business travel is still years away, and will be dependent on a number of fundamental policy changes on the part of the Cuban government, none of which are being affected by the recent changes in US policy, says the summary of the study posted on the official website of the company.

"BGI data indicate that while Cuba certainly could be a huge travel destination, it is years away from being able to handle any but 'adventure' traffic. What US politicians need to understand – regardless of their position on liberalizing relations – is that there is nothing whatsoever in the new Obama administration policies that change this situation," according to the summary.

Because it lacks a tourism infrastructure that meets world standards, the main sector of growth is expected to be VFR – visiting friends and relatives travel. This, the report says, will mainly benefit Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, because almost 60% of all Cuban-Americans reside in Southeast Florida.

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"That’s for the simple reason that Cuba does not have the travel and tourism capacity to handle the supposed 'demand' for traditional tourists that some in the US travel industry are predicting," it reads.

For the near term, the airlines that are expected to directly benefit include American, JetBlue, and Spirit – all of which have a substantial presence in either

Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, and are in a strong position to provide the additional charter flights that may result from the liberalized travel restrictions.

The extensive study reviews all factors that will be necessary to generate a true travel spike, and outlines where changes in Cuban policy are needed.

What must change is the allowance of free visitor travel and the facilities to support and enhance such traffic.

"Until the Cuban government decides to go in that direction, Cuba will remain an 'exotic' destination. And that means highly limited and low volume. Recent changes by the Obama Administration will not alter this reality," the study concluded.

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