This story was co-written by Julie Jimenez.

Regardless of political/human rights issues, travel to Cuba is opening up more and more each day.

With news of the first U.S. hotel brand officially entering Cuba, some questions still remain unanswered: what’s next for the destination? How will Cuba build an attractive tourism offering after the hype is over in order to continue to attract U.S. travelers?

Building a Sustainable Identity and the Power of Storytelling

Streets filled with antique cars, salsa dancing at the famous Tropicana, the perfect mojito at Hemingway’s favorite hangout. Many say that time stopped in Cuba, and that is what most find exciting.

This romantic notion behind untouched Cuba makes it a hot commodity for curious travelers, including the likes of Beyoncé and Jay Z.  But what’s going to happen when all the intrigue is over? How does the island keep travelers interested and repeat business happening?

Now is the time for destination marketers to kick it into high gear. The first step must be to define the Cuba offering with a long-term vision.

This should be followed by identifying which U.S. travel segment the destination should own – weddings, family, luxury – and developing a strategy around it. Consumers will also need to be told why they should choose Cuba vs. any of the other destinations in the Caribbean. Is it affordability? Convenience?

The most difficult step will require changing the media conversation from its current positioning of Cuba as a cultural travel trend to a mainstream travel destination.

All of this boils down to creating a sustainable and exciting brand identity that translates into heads in beds for many years to come.

Setting the Tone for the Travel Experience

According to a recent Skift survey, approximately 25 percent of Americans are interested in visiting Cuba within the next year as restrictions continue to be lifted. But are these U.S. travelers ready for the hotels that await them?

There will always be travelers that want to go native and have an authentic experience, as seen by the surge in educational and cultural travel once those options became available. Once leisure travel is officially allowed, Cuba will begin receiving a new class of traveler – those that expect their hotel stay to be on par with what’s available in the U.S.

This is already a tall order for the U.S. brands that are entering the market, as historic hotels will need to be renovated, staff will need to be trained, and food and beverage programs will need to be developed, including sourcing ingredients, to suit the tastes of American travelers.

But what direction will existing independent hotels and the international chains already present on the island have to take? Will they court the U.S. market or remain committed to the Canadian and European travelers that have been flocking to Cuba for the last 50 years?

In addition to destination marketing, how hotel brands position themselves will be an important piece of the travel puzzle, as it will dictate the types of travelers that will visit Cuba. Once brands, both American and international, determine what type of traveler will best appreciate their offering, clear communication will be necessary to ensure guests are satisfied, and continue to return to the island for years to come.

Photo: Creative Commons “CUBA loves USA” by Angelo Domini, used under CC BY