New Flights To Cuba Could Boost Tampa Bay Region's Trade, Tourism

Tampa's relationships with Cuba run long and strong.

In the 1800s, Tampa's Ybor City — known for its Cuban cigar-making industry — was a temporary home to Cuban freedom fighters Paulina Pedroso and Jose Martí. Today Tampa's Cuban-American population is one of the largest in the U.S., second only to Miami in density.

So it would seem that in light of the Obama administration's lifting of restrictions for flights between the U.S. and Cuba, Tampa International Airport would be in prime position to become a major hub for those bound for and coming from Cuba, boosting tourism here and there, and making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit family and friends.

According to Steve Michelini,of the World Trade Center Tampa Bay's board of directors, plans are also underway to ready the airport and its application to the federal government to make regular commercial flights to Cuba.

"This whole process fell into place correctly," says Michelini. "But we're not in a position to really predict how long the review process will take. If all goes well, revenue would be significant in terms of tourism for the Tampa Bay area."

Michelini cautions that getting Tampa's application approved by the U.S. government is only one step in the process. 

"U.S. approval is important, but more important is the approval from Cuba," Michelini says. "The second part of this process is that the Cuban government has to approve who can land on Cuban soil."

However, Michelini says that he and other members of World Trade Center Tampa Bay enjoyed a warm reception last year when they traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban officials.

"It was a very encouraging visit," he says. "They could not have been nicer to us. They love the people of Tampa. There are relationships that go back 100 years. This is one of those links that needs to be attached. It's been hanging out far too long."

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Steve Michelini, World Trade Center Tampa Bay

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