Business Insider publishes an annual ranking of the best Caribbean Islands.
This year, Cuba ranks #1.
Distance from NYC: 3 hours and 35 minutes
Average hotel room cost: $124 per night
Cuba’s unique architecture, ’50s-era Chevy taxicabs, and sandy beaches have been just out of reach for American tourists until recently. Years of US embargo have left the Caribbean island undeveloped compared to its more modern neighbors, so there aren’t too many fancy hotels on the island yet. There are, however, a number of local paradores and Airbnb rentals available for travelers.
In 2015, Havana alone hosted 1.7 million visitors, and the Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) projects a 37% jump in 2016. Final 2016 figures have yet to be released but the growth trend is clear.
Yet Cuba as a whole runs little risk of becoming overrun by foreigners. There is plenty of scope for the expansion of tourism. According to a recent report, one common indicator of a nation’s tourism potential is the ratio of international tourist arrivals relative to its population. By way of comparison, this ratio in the Dominican Republic is 0.49, in Costa Rica 0.53, and in Jamaica 0.76, whereas in Cuba the ratio of tourists to the population had only reached 0.26 in 2014.
To some observers, the Varadero peninsula is already over-crowded, yet its hotel density is low compared to other similar destinations such as Mexico (Cancún) or in many other summertime beach resorts worldwide (ie. the Spanish Costa Brava, Chile’s Viña del Mar, or New York’s Coney Island) – all falling well short of the density in Brazil’s Copacabana.
Should the Cuban government’s ambitious hotel expansion programs come to fruition, only a small fraction of the 1,400-plus islands and bays along the island’s 5,746 kilometers of coastline will have been developed. Nevertheless, even this limited growth will have to be carefully managed if the new influx is to avoid bringing with it environmental damage.
To determine accessibility, we searched Google Maps to see how long the journey is from New York City to the major airport on the island. Islands that offer direct flights from New York City had shorter travel times, and performed better on the list.
For islands with no direct flights from New York City, we added the flight time from New York City to a nearby major airport, an hour for a layover, and the flight time for an island-hopper flight to the final destination.
To determine the average hotel room cost, we sought out the help of our friends at Hotels.com. The hospitality site provided us with the average hotel room cost on each of the islands for the year of 2016.
To determine the number of attractions, we searched the island on TripAdvisor.com, a reviews-based travel website. We used the number of attractions, which includes beaches, landmarks, cultural sites, and outdoor venues.
To determine the beach density index, we divided the length of each island’s coastline by its land area, as indicated in the CIA World Factbook. This metric rewards islands that have a relatively large amount of potential beachfront for their size.
In the slideshow, we assigned description words to the island’s beach density index score:
- Low: 0.0 – 0.2
- Moderate: 0.21 – 0.5
- High: 0.51 – 0.8
- Very high: 0.81+
When it was time to crunch the numbers, we normalized the data in each criteria so that each sub-score has a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1.
This common statistics technique allows us to preserve some of the relative size information (e.g. if one island has twice as much coastline than another island, it will get a much better score than if it had just 10% more coastline), while putting each variable on a common scale so we can meaningfully average them.