The recently relaxed restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba are helping New Orleans travel businesses capitalize on tourism in the two countries.
Alina Fernandez moved from Cuba to New Orleans when she was 9 years old. Nowadays she runs a travel agency that specializes in trips to her home country.
She said her business struggled during the George W. Bush administration, when restrictions on travel were the tightest. Since President Barack Obama restored relations between the two countries in 2014, there’s been a new wave of tourists heading to Cuba, she said.
Fernandez said demand is so high, Cuba’s limited number of hotels books quickly. She said many Cubans are fixing up their homes and renting out rooms to tourists who are eager to experience the island nation’s lifestyle.
“I think everybody is agreeing that we need change. We need to take this embargo out. It hasn’t worked for so many years, and it’s not going to work. I think the way Obama has done it, he’s done a good job and I’m very happy. As a Cuban, I’m very happy,” she said.
A new survey by TripAdvisor finds that Obama’s trip has influenced 13 percent of U.S. travelers. Sixty-two percent of those who were surveyed said they would book a trip to Cuba, and 25 percent said they are planning to go within the next year.
Obama arrived Sunday in Cuba and spent the day Monday with President Raul Castro. While the two appeared together and spoke with members of the media, both leaders said there were still a few grievances between the countries.
On one side, Obama hopes the improved relations will help improve human rights and open the possibility of a state-run economy. Meanwhile, Castro spoke against the trade embargo and insisted on the return of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station to Cuba.
More information about Obama’s historic trip to Cuba is available on WDSU.com.