Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Wed April 08 2015

American Demand Skyrockets for Cuba Cruises

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton | April 08, 2015

American Demand Skyrockets for Cuba Cruises

(Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise)

Cuba Cruise, the Canadian line that offers winter voyages around the island, just finished its second season amid skyrocketing interest from Americans.

As the U.S. moves toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, American travelers are researching the long off-limits island and even going there on legal People-to-People licensed educational trips. President Obama announced the new policy toward Cuba on Dec. 17, and eased travel rules in January.

“Until now, Americans have constituted less than 5 percent of our business, not a big number at all,” Cuba Cruise President Dugald Wells told TravelPulse. “Since December, when the first big announcement was made, our web traffic from American locations has gone up 1,200 percent, just a huge increase. Initially it seemed to be a curiosity and we got a lot of phone calls with general questions, but after the second announcement came in January, our call center traffic and our daily web traffic both doubled. We had to put extra people on the phones, and we started taking bookings.”

Also in late January, Cuba Cruise posted information on its website detailing how Americans can legally take one of its voyages.

“After we put that up on our website inviting Americans to book with us legally, our less than 5 percent doubled,” Wells said. “We only had five departures left in the season, but those last couple of departures went full. We turned people away.”

And that portends big business for the next winter season, which will run from Dec. 18 to March 28, 2016. The seven-day voyages depart Havana every Monday and Montego Bay, Jamaica, every Friday. The 2015-16 itinerary will include a new port call at Maria La Gorda, and an overnight stay in Havana.

“I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a third of our passengers were from America next year, but that’s still speculation,” Wells said. “Traffic is way, way up, and a lot of travel agents are talking to us about putting groups together. We never know which ones will materialize and which ones won’t, but there’s a lot of interest. And in the last month of our season, we took a lot of new bookings, almost all from the states.”

Cuba Cruise, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, currently charters the 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal from Celestyal Cruises. Could the skyrocketing demand from Americans lead to more capacity?

“At this point, we’re not planning on it, but we certainly could,” Wells said. “Our partners at Celestyal Cruises have a number of vessels available so that we could easily increase the size of our ship or put a second vessel in if warranted. At this point, we don’t see it, but it’s all brand new, and there’s certainly enough interest to make us watch the situation closely.”

With major U.S.-based cruise lines undoubtedly eyeing Cuba closely, Wells said the competition would help by drawing more attention.

“The American market was never a cornerstone to our plan,” he said. “We always thought it would be fantastic to have that market if and when the day comes, but when it does come, it could be with a Carnival ship. So our product had to make sense in the Canadian and other international markets. It had to be the kind of product that would continue even when the big vessels started coming. Smaller ships can get right into the little ports we’re going to. We have a destination-oriented program, and there’s always going to be room for that. The great big vessels will do other kinds of itineraries. They’re not going to be able to do the kind of itineraries we do simply because we have smaller vessels. So should competition come along, there’s lots of room for tourism to grow in that country, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

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