Cuba! As the Obama administration eases up on travel restrictions to Cuba, the Travel editor, Monica Drake, is thinking about how the section will cover the new destination. Some insight into her thinking:
Credit Lisette Poole for The New York Times
There is a 630-room Caribbean resort called the Paradisus set on a sliver of a peninsula that juts out into the sea. It has a spa, a gym, 10 bars, eight restaurants and, despite the fact that it sits on a popular beach, it also has eight pools, some of which allow you to swim up from your suite.
It is indistinguishable from many all-inclusive lodgings on neighboring islands save for one fact: It is in Cuba. And it is not the only such resort there.
In the popular conception, Cuba remains a humble place frozen in time (a consequence of its exclusion from our economy), but one that is more authentic because it has not been corrupted by the worldwide proliferation of Starbucks and W Hotels. Cuba means classic cars in vivid colors, cigars worth breaking the law to enjoy back home, and dilapidated colonial buildings where some of the greatest musicians play Latin jazz, their brilliant music soaring amid the decay.
But the actual country, like any other, is a living, breathing society, one that has steadily changed and courted tourists from overseas, American sanctions notwithstanding.
Now, Cuba is bound to change even more swiftly as the American hospitality industry seeks to wedge its way in. And we will continue to cover that compelling story.
While we do that, I plan to challenge travel writers not to fall back on the fable-like narrative, the tale of purity – of a stagnant world, stuck in a time capsule – soon to be spoiled even as its economy improves.
I want us to cover the upscale resort island of Cuba that European tourists already know, the hip-hop scene so influential that the United States Agency for International Development sought to infiltrate it, and the contemporary art community so renowned that its creators’ works are part of the collections of prominent museums like the Guggenheim. These are the things that draw Americans by the thousands every year.
Of course, there is incredible want and poverty to explore in Cuba. And that is a central element of why Cuba matters now – its economy is about to get a jolt, although it remains to be seen how big that change will be. Our main focus in the coming weeks will be to try to make sure that in any travel narrative, poverty has a proper context, that we don’t run gratuitous pictures of shirtless, shoeless children running down dusty streets. In all travel writing, it is tough to write about poverty without seeming to exoticize the impoverished; avoiding this trope will be a particular focus of mine.
And of course we’ll cover the nuts and bolts – we plan updates on the evolving American rules on travel to Cuba and the accommodations and services for people who visit.
I’ve long wanted to go myself, not because Cuba is the last frontier for American travelers but because I know that there is more to it than the ’52 Chevys by the beach. And, if travel is about creating once-in-a-lifetime memories, what better way to do it than to go to a place that may never be the same again?