With the recent historic meeting of presidents Barrack Obama and Raul Castro as a catalyst, the escalation of U.S. visitors to Cuba seems like it will happen sooner rather than later. That, in turn, could preface the possible return to the island of American resort operators retracing the footsteps of those who thrived there in the pre-Castro days.
In that era, a trip to Havana could be as casual as an overnight excursion on a 50-minute flight departing Miami International Airport nightly at 5 p.m. and returning at 8 a.m. the following morning.
In 1959 a group of Miami-based investors opened the Capri Hotel & Casino in havana with the late film star George Raft serving as the casino’s front man. For the inaugural party our agency teamed with Pan American Airways to host a familiarization trip to the resort for more than 80 Florida-based and Northeastern travel journalists including Horace Sutton, at that time the syndicated doyen of travel editors.
His review of the opening events remains indelibly imprinted on my mind.
“Today,” his story lede began, “I joined in the grand opening of Havana’s newest luxury casino resort—the Capri.”
“It was a race.”
“A race to determine whom would be plastered first; the guests of the new resort or the hotel itself.”
While the remainder of his comments about the new property were largely complimentary, his pithy lede did capsulize a scenario hardly unique in the introduction of new hotels or cruise ships, which frequently open with painters and other workmen completing finishing touches even as guests check in.
Most seasoned travel journalists take these situations in stride, but often considerable hand-holding is required on the part of the PR representative to ensure such conditions don’t become the centerpiece of the coverage.