Business Traveller

Why you should travel to Cuba before it looks like everywhere else

James Williams and Daisy Carrington, for CNNUpdated 10th October 2017
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Havana, Cuba (CNN) — Cuba is not like other places, or rather, not like anywhere that exists today.
To some outsiders, it looks firmly stuck in the 1950s. Vintage cars roam the streets, the landscape is absent of strip malls and global chains, and the buildings -- though crumbling -- hark back to a grander time.
It is these throwbacks that lend Havana, the country's capital, an undeniable charm. A charm that, some worry, is in peril once the U.S. embargo lifts.
"We're still in 1959, that's the beauty of the city, and eventually all of this is going to change," says Hugo Cancio, a Cuban-American entrepreneur and president of Fuego Media Group.
CNN's Richard Quest tries his hand at rolling classic Cuban cigars and meets the British Ambassador to Cuba.
"Real estate developers from the U.S. have been flying to Cuba very quietly, taking notes, taking photos and putting together their Cuba investment plans. I don't blame them. There are a lot of opportunities here," he says.

Sparking a cigar revival

Right now, entrepreneurs like Cancio are waiting to see how an opening of relations with the U.S. will affect not just the architecture of the country, but the businesses that already exist.
How, for instance, would a sudden influx of demand for Cuban products influence, say, Cuba's cigar industry?
In the 1990s, demand for Cuban cigars soared, and the result was a lower-quality stogie. Cuban tobacco companies are loathe to make the same mistake twice.
"I can't produce more (cigars) because the land is not so big," notes renowned cigar-maker Hirochi Robaina.
"I'd rather produce the same, but with better quality."
Currently, Robaina Family Farm makes between four to five million cigars each year -- not enough to satisfy the U.S. market. If they won't produce more, that means the price for Cuban cigars will likely soar.

Cruising Cuba

A handful of (non-American) foreign companies have managed to carve out a niche in Cuba over the decades. One of these is Canadian company Cuba Cruise, who was the first cruise operator to add Cuba as a destination.
CNN's Richard Quest explores how lifted sanctions is likely to result in the arrival of cruise chips in Havannah.
"Cuba wasn't a tour operation so cruise operators did know how to sell it. We couldn't show them pictures of what it was like because no one had done it. We were real pioneers," recalls Dugland Wells, president of Cuba Cruise.
When the U.S. lifts the embargo, cruise companies like Carnival are all but guaranteed to encroach on their turf. Wells, however, isn't worried.
"I feel confident there's room for more operators," he says.
"They won't just be able to sail in here to this pier in the middle of the Havana. They'll have to build new infrastructure and will probably be 20 miles outside of town."