By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadians who want to enjoy uncrowded Cuban beaches and the country's "frozen in time" charm should act soon before U.S. policy changes open the floodgates for American tourists, a Canadian cruise company warned on Thursday.
Travel restrictions have made it difficult for Americans to visit the Communist-run island for decades, in contrast with Canadians who have long thawed out in the Caribbean nation.
That is about to change with more Americans being allowed to travel to Cuba after President Barack Obama moved this week to restore diplomatic relations, even though tourism remains restricted.
Canadian firm Cuba Cruise said in a statement it expects a pickup in bookings to visit Cuba while it is still "virtually free of American commercialization."
"Right now we come to Cuba and .. things are pretty much as they were," Dugald Wells, chief executive officer of Cuba Cruise said from Toronto. More travel "is going to result in building and investment and modernization. Really, it's the lack of those things that make Cuba something very special today."
Canada, which has had diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1945, hosted the secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba that led to Wednesday's landmark announcement.
Canadians are the island's largest source of tourists, representing about 40 percent of all visitors to Cuba. Dozens of direct flights leave from Canadian cities each week to the island.
Travel agent Maria Anderson said one benefit of the rapprochement could be better food quality, long a source of complaints for Canadians, if American restaurants move in.
But others, she says, won't be thrilled to share the sand with their neighbors to the south.
"When you go down there, it's a Cuban culture. When you go to Mexico, you're finding the ... things you find in the U.S," Anderson said.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Alan Crosby)