Are Americans already over Cuba?
Friday, December 9, 2016
Posted by The Canadian Press
Demand for travel to Cuba may be flattening, with soaring hotel prices
on the island, American Airlines cutting some flights, and uncertainty
over whether new travel restrictions could be imposed when Donald Trump
Gregory Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, a tour company that's taken
3,000 Americans to Cuba, confirms there has been a softening in demand.
In part he blamed hotel prices on the island, which have nearly doubled
since 2015 and which are set by the government. "There's still demand
but there's only so much people can afford," he said. Cheaper lodging is
available through Airbnb and other services, but not all travellers want
the hassles and uncertainty of travelling on their own in Cuba.
Geronemus said "Zika has cast a shadow" on the region too, despite the
Cuban government's assertion that mosquito abatement efforts have been
successful. Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, can cause birth defects.
While an increasing number of airlines are offering flights, American
Airlines is cutting three of its 13 daily flights to Cuba beginning Feb.
16 and switching to smaller planes on some routes, said spokesman Matt
Miller. He added that adjustments are common with new service and that
the reduction was made before the presidential election.
ForwardKeys, which compiles data based on global reservations
transactions, says it has not detected a drop in bookings for Cuba. And
Cuban government statistics show an 80 per cent increase in visits by
Americans the first six months of this year over the same period in
2015, from 76,183 to 136,913. In the last few weeks, several U.S.
airlines started regular commercial flights to Cuba. United Airlines
launched Newark-Havana flights Nov. 29 and Saturday service from Houston
on Dec. 3. Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said the airline is "prepared to
work with the new administration" going forward. JetBlue, which also
just launched service, would not provide specifics but said "we are
pleased with how flights to Cuba are selling."
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Tanner Callais of Austin, Texas, who runs a cruise website called
Cruzely.com, had hoped to cruise to Cuba in 2017.
But "now with some of the things I've heard about tightening up
restrictions on travel to Cuba, we're taking a wait and see approach,"
he said. "The last thing we want to do is put a lot of money down for a
trip and then have the cruise cancelled due to new restrictions put in
Others are booking trips as soon as they can, fearing a Cuba travel ban
under Trump. "Ordinarily we book trips three to six months ahead but
people are calling this week to register for trips three weeks from
now," said Kimberly Haley-Coleman, executive director of GlobeAware,
which organizes volunteer trips.
Though Geronemus says the softening started "long before Trump was
elected," some travellers are asking for reassurance that they'd be
covered if travel gets banned between the time they book their tickets
and their planned trip. That has smarTours promising a full refund or
credit for a discounted trip elsewhere should new rules make it
impossible to go ahead with a trip, Geronemus says.
Erika Richter, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents,
says "some people we talk to are convinced that everything will be
rolled back on Jan. 21. Others think, as a hospitality industry leader,
(Trump) will not follow through. So, I think it's probable but not
guaranteed that we see a roll back in early 2017."
But what Trump has in mind for Cuba is unclear. Three days after Fidel
Castro's death, the president-elect tweeted: "If Cuba is unwilling to
make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and
the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal."
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Some critics believe the Obama administration should have held out for
democratic and human rights reforms as part of the loosening of travel
restrictions. But others think that stimulating Cuba's economy through
travel – including inroads by U.S. cruise, hotel and tour companies
there – is the best way to bring change.
On Wednesday, two U.S. cruise companies, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings
and Royal Caribbean International received permission from the Cuban
government to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. In May, Carnival Corp. became
the first U.S. company in decades to run cruises to Cuba.
Haley-Coleman thinks the most likely scenario is a return to strict
enforcement of rules for permitted types of trips. Even under President
Obama, Americans can't go to Cuba as regular tourists. They have to
certify that their trip falls into one of 12 permitted categories,
including educational, humanitarian or cultural travel. Right now,
though, that certification is done on the honour system. Haley-Coleman
thinks Trump may require itineraries be pre-approved to ensure Americans
are not just drinking mojitos on the beach.
Also Wednesday, a group of Cuban entrepreneurs travelled to Washington
to deliver a letter asking Trump to support increased U.S. travel, trade
and investment with Cuba. As owners of restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts
and other businesses, they said that continued engagement with the U.S.
is essential for progress and growth on the island.
Source: Are Americans already over Cuba? - Travelweek -