Image: The entrance to “Barrio Chino” in Havana, Cuba. Source: The Havana Times.
On July 27, 2022, the Chinese and Cuban governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Tourism Cooperation, underscoring one of the key instruments to tourism development. The signatories will work on “the promotion, organization and management of travelers to Cuba and from there to China through diverse mechanisms.” The initiatives taken will be in accord with the identified interests in cultural tourism, health, historical heritage, and multi-destinations of the Caribbean. This piece discusses the significance of the MOU in the context of economic policies of the Caribbean, Chinese, and United States governments, as well as other stakeholders.
Cuba-China MOU on Tourism Cooperation
Cuba aims to double its Chinese tourist arrivals by strengthening its ecotourism, cultural, health, and nautical tourism industries, among other options.
In November 2019, Cuban tourism authorities signed with China Ctrip, the second-largest online travel company in the world, a memorandum to position itself as one of its principal destinations, as well as negotiating an arrangement with the Platform Alipay to facilitate digital payments for Asian citizens.
Cuban authorities hope that, despite its limitations, the arrival of tourists to Cuba will top the present year at 3.5 million, an amount that would confirm the reanimation of Cuba’s vital tourism sector.
The Chinese-Cuban MOU illustrates how China continues to use economic statecraft as a means to strengthen its strategic position in the region. As Dr. Scott MacDonald pointed out in The New Cold War, China, and the Caribbean Economic Statecraft, China and Strategic Realignments, China has heavily invested in all the major economic sectors of the Caribbean, including tourism. In Cuba, and most of the region, tourism is a main economic driver. China has also been influential in helping tourism in other parts of the Caribbean, such as the Bahamas, where China financed the finishing of the gigantic Baha Mar resort by Chow Tai Foot Enterprises, a family-owned conglomerate with close ties to the Chinese government. China also financed a new port facility in the Grand Bahamas and the three hotels by Hutchinson Port Holdings, a BVI subsidiary of Hong Kong company, Hutchison Whampoa, which has close ties to the Chinese government.
Implications for U.S. and Caribbean Tourism Policies
On April 4, 2022, the U.S. and Greek governments signed a new MOU on tourism cooperation, updating the previous agreement signed 31 years ago. Although the proximity of the U.S., especially its southeastern states, and shared culture in areas such as plantocracy, would make tourism cooperation as much a benefit for the U.S. as it would for the Caribbean, the U.S. government has not taken advantage of this opportunity.
The U.S. and Caribbean countries should consider concluding bilateral (or even a multilateral) agreement(s) on the development and facilitation of tourism, similar to the ones the U.S. has already concluded with other countries. These agreements provide, among other things, for: establishing government tourism offices and stationing personnel in each other’s territory; promoting the development of the tourism industry and infrastructure in each other’s territory; facilitating and encouraging bi-national cultural events; simplifying travel documents; saving certain visa fees; and promoting foreign investment in the tourism sectors. In furtherance of these goals, the agreements provide for cultural and tourism programs, tourism training, the exchange of tourism statistics, joint marketing of tourism, consultations (annual meetings), and additional tourism-related protocols.
Many long-trip tourists, such as those from Northern Europe and Asia, like to travel to parts of the U.S., especially the southeastern U.S., during the winter months. In 2019, international visitors spent USD $233.5 billion experiencing the U.S, bringing $640 million a day into the U.S. economy. The U.S. travel and tourism industry accounted for $1.9 trillion in economic output, yielding 9.5 million jobs. If these tourists could take advantage of joint U.S.-Caribbean tourism products, such as plantocracy and cultural tourism packages and/or discounts on hotels and restaurants with operations in both the U.S. and the Caribbean, then they would have more incentive to take such trips to both the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Indeed, tourism agreements and MOUs are not new in the Caribbean. On January 25, 2022, at FITUR, the world’s most significant annual international travel and tourism trade show, Jamaica and Spain announced they would develop a tourism MOU to collaborate on various aspects of tourism development and economic transformation. Jamaica has previously signed similar agreements with Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, to develop and harmonize legislation on air connectivity, visa facilitation, product development, marketing, and human capital development. These agreements are designed to efforts to strengthen tourism relations.
As discussed in a previous article, there are so many possibilities for the U.S. and the Caribbean to collaborate on cultural, eco, health, and other kinds of tourism. They already do collaborate, but only in ad hoc ways, notwithstanding the importance of the hospitality sector in both the U.S. and the Caribbean. In terms of collaboration, many U.S. hospitality entities, such as hotels, casinos, restaurants, golf clubs, and transportation entities already have operations in both the U.S. and the Caribbean. Hence, they have an incentive to participate in joint tourism and collaborative hospitality programs.
If the U.S. is unwilling to conclude tourism agreements or MOUs with the Caribbean on the federal level, CARICOM or Caribbean countries should reach out to individual U.S. states, especially where there are large diaspora communities. In this regard, California has its own tourism agreements and MOUs. For instance, California has a tourism agreement with Mexico and an MOU with Israel. The one with Mexico aims to increase bilateral tourism flows, emphasizing luxury tourism, adventure and nature tourism, sports tourism, sun and beach tourism, cultural tourism, and organized group tourism.
Developing collaborative tourism cooperation with the Caribbean—which shares with the U.S. private sector-oriented economies, democratic ideas, and has large diaspora communities in the U.S.—represents a smart economic and political move for the U.S., creating new jobs and economic opportunities in both the U.S. and the Caribbean. In addition, strengthening the number one economic sector of the Caribbean while simultaneously cultivating the hospitality sector of the U.S. is a forward-thinking foreign and national security policy.
As the U.S. and Caribbean are following up on the Summit of the Americas and trying to implement concrete policies, both sides may want to prioritize the idea of tourism cooperation. Just as importantly, individual Caribbean governments should also seek to develop cooperative arrangements with the U.S., states, and even municipalities. Cooperative arrangements can also occur between universities that offer tourism and travel programs.
Hopefully, the stakeholders will take inspiration from the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who wrote about travel in Ulysses:
“It is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die”
Bruce Zagaris is a partner with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP, fellow with the Caribbean Policy Consortium, and former lecturer at the Law Faculty of the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill, Barbados.
 Cuba y China firman memorando para impulsar el turismo, OnCubaNews, July 27, 2022 https://oncubanews.com/cuba/cuba-y-china-firman-memorando-para-impulsar-el-turismo/.
 Dr. Scott MacDonald pointed out in The New Cold War, China, and the Caribbean Economic Statecraft, China and Strategic Realignments 91-97 )2022).
 See, e.g., Agreement Between the Governments of the United States of America and the Hungarian People’s Republic on the Development and Facilitation of Tourism, July 12, 1989; see also Mexico-United States: Agreement on the Development and Facilitation of Tourism, Oct. 3, 1989, 29 I.L.M. 42 (1990).
 For additional discussion of the content and utility of tourism agreements, see David L. Edgell Sr. and Jason R. Swanson, Tourism Policy and Planning: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow 217-218 (2013).
 Vicky Karantzavelou, Jamaica to sign MOU on tourism development with Spain, Jan. 25, 2022 https://www.traveldailynews.com/post/jamaica-to-sign-mou-on-tourism-development-with-spain.
 Jamaican Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica and Panama Sign Multi-Destination Marketing and Airlift Agreement, Jan. 24, 2020 https://www.mot.gov.jm/news-releases/jamaica-and-panama-sign-multi-destination-marketing-and-airlift-agreement.
 Bruce Zagaris and Scott B. MacDonald , The Summit of the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Promotion of the Orange Economy, GlobalAmericans, June 3, 2022 https://theglobalamericans.org/2022/06/the-summit-of-the-americas-the-caribbean-and-the-promotion-of-the-orange-economy/