Poll by USF Sarasota-Manatee researchers shows tourism interest in Cuba

A recent survey by USF Sarasota-Manatee researchers shows interest in Cuban tourism.

A recent survey by USF Sarasota-Manatee researchers shows interest in Cuban tourism.

SARASOTA, Fla. (June 15, 2015) – A new poll by USF Sarasota-Manatee researchers shows Americans warming to the idea of traveling to Cuba for tourism.

The poll shows 91 percent of respondents support lifting travel restrictions to Cuba and a slightly higher margin say the Cuban embargo should end. Additionally, nearly half indicated they might visit the island as tourists if restrictions are ever removed.

Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership and graduate student Adrianna Ramirez, who collaborated on the poll, released some of the survey’s results Monday. It comes after several polls by news organizations showing most Americans support restoration of trade and diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Conducted nationally, the poll elicited 467 responses and posed 20 questions. Some touched on the trade embargo, travel and whether Cuba should be removed from the government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, however most questions focused on tourism.

In addition to seeking whether respondents were “very likely, likely or somewhat likely” to travel to Cuba pending the restrictions’ removal, the poll inquired about what attracted respondents to Cuba, activities they would likely engage in there, whether they would rent a car and the type of lodging preferred. Unlike most polls, it also asked respondents to provide short narratives expressing their views about Cuba and tourism.

Of those who took the poll, 47 percent said they were very likely, likely or somewhat likely to travel to Cuba if restrictions are eased. Thirty-four percent indicated they would not travel to Cuba and 19 percent were undecided.

Among other findings:

  • Thirty-seven percent would travel to Cuba “as soon as they believed Cuba was ready for Americans. “
  • Twenty-one percent would travel there “when there is an American embassy.”
  • Nineteen percent would plan a trip to Cuba for “next year’s vacation” if the travel ban was removed.
  • Fifteen percent have “no intention to travel” there.
  • Eight percent would travel to Cuba, “within the first year” of restrictions being removed.

Most respondents – 67 percent – said they would stay a week, about three-quarters would travel by plane – only 22 percent by cruise ship or ferry – and almost half would rent a car upon arrival. About 40 percent would hire a local tour operator.

Dr. Cobanoglu, director of the M3 Center for Hospitality Technology & Innovation at USF Sarasota-Manatee, said he was surprised at the number of respondents who wanted the travel ban lifted.

“It shows me that Americans are open to the idea of change, and that they would support a change in a policy that has been in place the last 50-plus years,” he said.

Reading the narratives, he added he was struck by how many respondents favored “an authentic” experience rooted in Cuban culture and that many preferred the island’s tourism centers and beaches refrain from becoming “too Americanized.”

“One of the greatest appeals of Cuba to me is it’s one of the few places without fast-food signs and places on every street,” one respondent wrote.

Another said: “Let’s not try to make this just another U.S. destination. This place has unique cultural charm that should not be diluted with U.S. influences.”

Of the 467 respondents surveyed, 92 percent identified as U.S.-born, 44 percent said they were Democrat, 20 percent Republican and 29 percent as no-party affiliation. Most – 69 percent – were between 26 and 54 years old, with 38 percent from 26 to 34 years old and 31 percent from 35 to 54. The respondents were split evenly by gender.

Dr. Cobanoglu said the idea for the poll arose in March after a conversation with Ramirez, a Cuban exile, about President Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

It was conducted throughout May using software to distribute the survey to random email addresses. It was also posted on Facebook. Some results were released this week while Dr. Cobanoglu and Ramirez continue to analyze the data.

Ramirez, who is pursuing an MBA and holds a master’s degree in hospitality management, said she approached the project with mixed feelings, having fled Cuba when she was 8. Ramirez, her mother and younger sister left just after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. Her father came to the U.S. six months later.

“I think in general what caught my eye is the trend or direction the United States is going in with respect to attitudes toward Cuba, by favoring travel to Cuba,” she said.

Also intriguing was that respondents expressed support for the Cuban people while opposing the government, she said. About 75 percent said they wanted tourism to benefit the Cuban population.

“Make sure that tourism is developed in such a way that Cubans are paid a fair wage and are not exploited,” one respondent wrote.

Others expressed a desire to immerse themselves in Cuban culture. “Food, music and people” was cited as the top reason for wanting to visit the island.

In terms of lodging, most – 55 percent of respondents – supported staying at an international hotel, Cuban hotel or local bed & breakfast rather than a U.S.-brand hotel.

“I was really impressed by how many wanted to put their money toward helping the Cuban people, and also by how they really wanted to immerse themselves in the culture,” Ramirez said.

To learn more about USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, visit sar.flywheelsites.com/chtl.