As commerce and travel restrictions are further eased, business travel from the U.S. to Cuba is increasing. According to the Havana Consulting Group, which monitors business trends in Cuba, the number of Americans who traveled to Cuba increased 77 percent in 2015 from the prior year. In 2016, one million people visited Cuba, up nearly 15 percent from the previous year. From what we are seeing, airlines, hotels and telecommunications companies are clamoring to get in. Airbnb currently offers over 4000 properties in Cuba, and PayPal is researching possibilities for introducing an online remittance service.
A new business and personal destination for many, here are some important factors organizations should consider to meet their duty of care obligations, as well as arm business travelers with the tools they need to mitigate risk in this up-and-coming destination.
In addition to the basics, such as documentation requirements, health, insurance and safety information, travelers need to be made aware of demographic, political and infrastructure challenges they could face in a country where resources are limited and behavior closely policed. Some important factors to consider include technology and communications, weather, political climate, local transportation, home country consulate support and monetary limitations.
- Ensure your travelers can communicate internationally as they could experience limited or diminished communication quality. Be sure travelers know who to contact in the event they need support and have written contact information. Wi-Fi is available in many Havana hotels, and the Federal Communications Commission provides valuable information on how to support communication needs while in Cuba.
- Cuba’s east coast is prone to hurricanes from August to November, and earthquakes, landslides, and floods are not unheard of. Travelers need to keep enough cash on hand so they will be all right if there are power failures and ATM machines don’t work. Equip your travelers with back-up power sources for electronics.
- There is a high level of social control and a strong police presence in Cuba. There are restrictions on freedom of speech and association and assembly for Cuban nationals. Criticism of the government and photographing military zones, airports or personnel is sufficient grounds for arrest, and political demonstrations not sanctioned by the Cuban government may be broken up. Travelers to Cuba should be aware that the Cuban government may detain anyone at any time for any purpose, and visitors should avoid demonstrations or large public gatherings.
- Official taxis are generally reliable and it’s a good idea for travelers to ask the hotel to get a taxi. Travelers should be wary, or avoid altogether, private taxis and the older model private cars being offered as taxis, as they lack proper licensing and modern safety features. Many vehicles, including public transport, are poorly maintained. Travelers should be discouraged from operating motor vehicles, mopeds and rickshaws as roads are poorly lit and lack adequate road signs. Some travelers involved in traffic accidents have been detained up to several months, due to the lengthy police investigation that could ensue.
- Confirm that your country is represented by a consulate prior to departure and note the contact telephone number and street address.
Organizations can further safeguard their workforce by fostering smart travelers and implementing an agile and strategically managed Travel Preparedness, Risk Mitigation, and Safety Program, supported by policies, procedures and internal business stakeholders.
Performing situation emergency drills, table top exercises and regularly scheduled travel profile contact information accuracy audits enhances a company’s ability to ensure the process works, or address opportunities for improvement.
Pre-trip destination and cultural awareness information must be easily accessed by travelers, and offering or requiring company-supported situational awareness and safety training adds an additional layer of protection.
As business opportunities open on the horizon, companies must make every effort to educate and empower their workforce, regardless of destination.
- S. Department of State: http://travel.state.gov/
- K. Foreign Commonwealth Office: www.fco.gov.uk
- Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: http://dfat.gov.au/travel/Pages/travel.aspx
- Government of Canada Travel and Tourism: https://travel.gc.ca/
- New Zealand Travel Advice: https://www.safetravel.govt.nz/