While the curiosity may be high as new charter services are now allowed between eight US airports and Cuba, it is unlikely that the liberalisation of 50-year-old travel restrictions will release a flood of traffic, according to Boyd Group International President Mike Boyd, whose organisation just issued a study to that effect.
The report also suggested that there is not a lot of appetite for tourist/beach traffic potential and, in fact, will be much less than expected.
Gateways include Baltimore, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, New Orleans, Chicago O'Hare, Pittsburgh, Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Using statistics prior to the reimposition of travel restrictions by President George Bush in 2004, Mr Boyd indicated that Miami was, by far, the largest gateway to the island with 95.5% of the charter traffic compared with 4.2% over Kennedy and 0.3% from Los Angeles. Service is limited to charter flights, which can already operate between the two countries. Travel is limited to religious, academic, journalistic or cultural reasons under a more liberal Obama policy which restored new rules imposed during the Clinton Administration.
“The new 'VFR' - Visiting Family and Relatives - rules will, without question, tend to increase the demand for this specific traffic segment,” said Mr Boyd. “But there is a misconception that just ending the US embargo will open a floodgate of tourist and business travel between the USA and Cuba. Our analyses do not support such a contention. Under any range of circumstances, there would not be anywhere near a ‘flood’ of new air travel demand to Cuba in the near-term. Actually, there isn't even any external ‘gate’ at the present time keeping trade or tourism out of Cuba. What most Americans do not realise is that Cuba can and does trade freely with the rest of the world, and currently has air service access to the globe. Opening up the ability for selling US goods to Cuba does not necessarily mean the Cuban government wants it. Or, can afford it.”
The company pointed out that approximately 190,000 people annually made sanctioned trips between the US and Cuba since 2004. Even so, airlines must be prepared for the opportunities that could come from lifting all travel restrictions which would pave the way for commercial flights under the proposed Free Travel to Cuba Act.