Cuba has been a tourism giant in the Caribbean for years, catering to mostly Europeans and Canadians, but now is emerging as a leisure destination for Americans as well.
Cuba offers the best of the both worlds, the hustle and bustle of Havana, the country’s vibrant capital rich with nightlife and incredible cuisine, and Varadero, a region stocked with some of the most undeveloped beaches in the world. For Latin America specialists, think Ambergris Caye in Belize.
Many agents and operators have seen the writing on the wall and have also been legally selling Cuba already through the People-to-People Initiative, which requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, essentially, as the name implies, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country.
Although there are many loopholes to getting to Cuba legally, general travel there is still technically illegal so getting there will have to be a part of People-to-People packages, which are now being offered from just about every major operator including Insight Cuba, National Geographic Expeditions, Mayflower Tours, Apple Vacations, Journeys International, Abercrombie & Kent and others.
Most People-to-People flights leave out of Miami. However, all the chips are in place for mainstream air travel to Cuba, as JetBlue in July officially became the first major U.S. carrier to fly from New York/JFK to Havana. Cuba Travel Services Inc. is offering the weekly flight. It was also announced in August that American Airlines and Cuba Travel Services plan to operate the first charter flights between Los Angeles and Havana later this year. (The cruise industry is also jumping on the bandwagon. For a look at this aspect of Cuba tourism, stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com.)
Cuba is trending because, to put it quite simply, people often want “forbidden fruit,” so naturally Americans have been pining to visit Cuba for years. But besides being once off limits, Cuba offers a look at the old Caribbean, including beaches with no high rises and affordable cuisine — and classic U.S. automobiles.
Since experiential tourism isn’t always for the first-time traveler, we suggest pitching People-to-People tours to those who seek culture over a beach or simply to the more seasoned Caribbean client. It may take a year or two for Cuba’s hospitality industry to learn how to accommodate the American tourist. You can send experienced Caribbean travelers to Cuba immediately after it opens, but make sure they have a level of patience in dealing with some inevitable infrastructure and language-barrier obstacles that are sure to arise in the first few years.