An expected explosion in U.S. tourism to Cuba will likely take years to materialize even after U.S. airlines resume commercial flights to the Caribbean island this week for the first time since 1961, industry officials said.
JetBlue Airways Corp will pilot its historic flight from Florida to the Cuban city of Santa Clara on Wednesday, the latest step in normalizing relations that earlier this year included a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama and the first U.S. cruise to the island in decades.
The planes may some day be filled with U.S. beach-goers, looking for an economical Caribbean break at resorts favored by Canadians and Europeans on the sandy keys north of Santa Clara.
But for now, U.S. law and constraints on Cuba's tourism infrastructure will act as brakes on increasing demand, experts said.
Congress has yet to lift a trade embargo that prohibits U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba as tourists. The Obama administration has approved 12 categories of exceptions to the ban ranging from cultural, religious and educational travel to business and visiting family.
That means JetBlue's initial flights will mainly carry Cuban-Americans visiting relatives or other U.S. citizens interested in seeing the Che Guevara Mausoleum and other cultural sites.