Will Cuba Get Another Chance for Meetings?

Long a forbidden fruit, Cuba might soon be a destination option for American meeting planners. Bills have been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to allow free travel to and from Cuba; with 81 co-sponsors on the House bill in late March, the likelihood of policy change is better than ever.

"It would be foolish for meeting planners not to develop opportunities for people to go there" if the ban is lifted, said Peter Nathan, of PWN Exhibicon International LLC, in Westport, CT. Nathan has held two events in Cuba and has been trying for four years to obtain permission to hold a third. "I would be amazed if anybody who went to Cuba did not come back enchanted with the accommodations, the food, and the sightseeing," he said.

"Cuba has the attributes of other Caribbean islands — sun, sand, rum, cigars, and great music — but it has an extra draw that other islands don't have," said Kirby Jones, founder and president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association in Washington, DC. He cites the Spanish Colonial architecture of Old Havana and Cuba's historic connections with America.

Although Cuba has been largely closed to Americans, the country routinely hosts meeting groups from around the world at venues like the Havana International Conference Center, which offers 15 meeting rooms and 73,000 square feet of exhibit space, according to the International Congress & Convention Association, of which the center is a member. "The meeting facilities are up to date and extensive," said Jones. "The facilities over the last 10 to 15 years have been growing substantially. We're not dealing with a place that is at all backwards."

Other options — both in Havana — include the Tryp Habana Libra, with 572 guest rooms and space for up to 700 conferees theater-style, and the Melia Cohiba, with 462 guest rooms for group members and space for up to 1,000 attendees theater-style.

It remains to be seen how other destinations in the region will fare if the U.S. opens up to Cuba, but already the Florida Keys and Cayman Islands are each reportedly exploring opportunities to promote a dual-destination package involving itself and Cuba.

Contact Kinley Levack at [email protected]

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