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Brands contemplate Cuban opportunities

News, 30 November 2016

HAVANA: With major US airlines beginning scheduled services to Cuba's main airport and US companies rushing to register trademarks on the island, brands appear to be confident that commercial opportunities will not be affected by either the death of Fidel Castro or the election of Donald Trump.

Castro's passing may even work in favour of some categories. "He represented the thing that detractors of travel to Cuba liked least," said Tom Popper, president of New York-based tour operator insightCuba. "People can start putting the history behind them," he told the Chicago Tribune.

And he displayed equanimity in the face of Trump's tweet threatening to "terminate" the rapprochement engineered by President Obama in 2014.

"There's so much invested at this point that to turn it off would have financial consequences most entities wouldn't want to tolerate," he said.

Over the past two years, major brands have been registering trademarks and distinctive signs with the Cuban Office of Industrial Property (OCPI), the Boston Herald reported.

Back in 2014, just 78 US brands were registered on the island, but more than 1,000 applications have been received by the OCPI this year – including Disney, Taco Bell, Uber, Starbucks, Chevron, Domino's, Bank of America, Apple and Microsoft.

"These are brands that have not been commercialised in Cuba and now they see an opportunity," said Emilio Morales, president of The Havana Consulting Group, based in Miami.

But a stumbling block to some of them is their business model. "All these companies, which mostly operate with franchises, are seeing a business opportunity in a market where there is no franchise," he explained.

"In Cuba, they do not want franchises and there is no franchise law. Not even the self-employed (cuentapropistas) have legal personality," he added.

But US companies are permitted to establish a physical presence on the island and Starwood Hotels has already begun managing hotels there, a factor that that Robert Muse, a Washington DC lawyer who advises on business in Cuba, felt would help determine Trump's stance.

"(Trump) is in that business," Muse said in reference to hotel management.

Data sourced from Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald; additional content by Warc staff