US sanctions are not affecting inbound tourism


Cuba expects to receive 5.1 million visitors in 2019, a 7% increase from 2018.

Several foreign countries have invested in Cuba during 50 years since the US froze relations and imposed an economic embargo. President Obama relaxed the embargo and began normalising relations with Cuba, but President Trump has rolled that back.

Cuban Medical Services (SMC) has diversified its services to cover chronic disease treatment and cosmetic surgery, spas, drug and physical rehabilitation. SMC has 13 branches throughout Cuba, five specialised hospitals, nine international health clinics, as well as medical offices in the island's major tourism destinations and a network of pharmacies. SMC has 280 programmes available to foreign visitors as health tourism attracts an increasing number of people to Cuba.

SMC has three foreign investment projects in the island's business portfolio, a spa, a health centre, and an air ambulance service.

Health tourism in the island has been rapidly developing and is a core sector in the country's goal of boosting its income.

The Trump administration has tightened US travel restrictions on Communist-run Cuba and is allowing US citizens to bring lawsuits against foreign companies profiting from property taken from them after Cuba’s 1959 revolution. The administration is seeking to pressure Cuba’s government into giving up its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The implementation of the long-dormant section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act allowing US lawsuits against companies using confiscated property is mostly nonsense, due to the length of time.

The European Union and Canada, whose companies are the top investors in Cuba, particularly in the tourism sector, have denounced the Trump administration’s implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. They say it is not valid under international law and their companies could use blocking legislation, for example, to make counterclaims for any US suits they may face.

Spain's government is keen to keep investing in Cuba and for Spanish companies to contribute to the development of the island. Swiss-based Kempinski Hotels SA also runs the luxury Gran Hotel Manzana in Havana, which opened in 2017.

Cuba has sought to attract foreign capital ever since the fall of former benefactor the Soviet Union, to vitalise its beleaguered, still heavily centralised economy.

Business leaders are warning that the Trump administration’s threat to tighten the US embargo on Cuba could damage Canadian companies that are doing business on the Caribbean island.

Toronto-based Sherritt International is long established in Cuba, and its executives are banned from travelling to the US or doing any business there under existing provisions of Helms Burton. Other countries, such as Britain, France and Spain, have companies active in tourism ventures in Cuba.

The new US Treasury Department Cuba sanctions include a ban on the educational and cultural group trips known as “people-to-people” travel. Private and corporate aircraft and boats will also be denied licenses to visit the island nation.

50 years of sanctions did not destroy Cuba and the latest US actions have strengthened the resolve of Cuba, Canada, Spain and Mexico to fight back against the USA and expand local tourism and health tourism.

For further analysis of the medical tourism sector in Cuba, visit the IMTJ Country Profile.



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