Announced just this morning, the United States and Cuba will resume direct commercial flights by allowing “chartered operations and establish scheduled air services.” This long-expected move has been in the works over the course of 2015, and follows the re-opening of the American Embassy in Havana this summer.
Tourism has been booming over 2015, with some Cuban hotels sold out months in advance. Once direct flights resume, for the first time in over a half-century, an estimated 10 million Americans are expected to visit Cuba each year. Compare that to the 51,458 Americans who visited Cuba from January to 9 May of this year, and you can see that this will be a remarkable rise.
What does this mean for localizing your products and services and offering them for the market in Cuba? There are still cautions for doing business there. Even though companies like Apple have removed Cuba from the restricted country trade list, the average Cuban only makes $20 a month, so many consumer goods may still not be affordable to them.
Indeed, only about 1.3 million Cubans, about 11% of the market, have smartphones. Many advanced phones can only be afforded by remittances sent into Cuba from abroad, such as from relatives living in the U.S., and only a third of Cubans have such overseas connections.
As well, Internet connections are rare or spotty. In response to demand, the government recently opened 50 WiFi hotspots, but unlike how they are free and open in many international cafes and businesses, in Cuba they cost $2 per hour to access.
The main sectors poised to make inroads into the Cuban market include tourism, agribusiness, and telecommunications. For businesses looking to operate within Cuba itself, there are also a raft of caveats, from its harsh business climate, to concerns with regulatory compliance with anti-corruption laws, and of course, the continued U.S. embargo limiting trade.
Yet if you remain realistic and aware of all the risks, you may be able to find a new Spanish-language market opening up to you in the new year.