Photo by David Cogswell
Earlier this year, the Obama administration relaxed the restrictions on travel to Cuba through “people to people” educational trips. For some time, everyone was talking and writing about Cuba, but now that it’s more than eight months later, Cuba is out of the headlines a bit. Are travelers really interested in seeing the country and how much of the conversation was just hype?
Bryan Villella recently participated in the People to People Cruise to Cuba with Fathom. “I was surprised by the reaction of the locals to our presence,” said Villella, a CruiseOne Franchise Owner and Vacation Specialist, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “They were very friendly and open to us all. During our daily tours, we were in contact with different people each day throughout the city. They were eager to share their customs and time with us.”
During his time there, he packed a dozen baseballs to give away to the local kids, knowing that baseball is the number one sport in Cuba.
“They were initially scared to approach us, but the baseball acted as an icebreaker,” he said. “Now is the time to visit Cuba before it is changed forever.”
Greg Geronemus said that Cuba remains one of smarTours’ hottest destinations. “Universally, most of our clients tell us they want to go now before Cuba changes with more tourists, more hotels, more cruise ships, more traffic, etc.” said Geronemus, the co-CEO of smarTours, a guided tour company based in New York City.
“They want to experience Havana now before it becomes another Miami Beach or Cancun,” said Geronemus. “And our customers tell us that Cuba definitely lives up to its hype. They all say it’s an amazing, memorable travel experience.”
READ MORE: Can Cuba Keep Up With US Tourism?
Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same sentiments of Villella and Geronemus about Cuba travel.
“Having been to Cuba in February, I do think there was a lot of hype,” said Pam Walker of Walker Adventures Limited, and an affiliate of Travel Experts, Inc. “What really bothers me is that the infrastructure in Cuba itself is not there to handle all those flights that are now going. Plus prices have gone out of sight!”
The success of travel to Cuba may come down to educating travelers about the opportunities that are available. “There was and is a lot of interest in Cuba,” said Pam George, Global Connections Travel Agent. “However travelers are not aware that [it is still very difficult to] travel to Cuba on your own and be independent. The cruises and tours that are offered are structured and require complete participation by everyone in the group.”
The United States Department of the Treasury recently updated its guidelines on travel to Cuba. According to The Office of Foreign Assets Control, there are 12 categories of authorized travel for many travel-related transactions.
Travel-related transactions are permitted by general license for certain travel related to family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
Lynn Newman with Global Connections believes that the success of Cuba as a travel destination is going to take some time. “I believe there is still interest in this destination and once travel to Cuba becomes more affordable, more people will want to go,” she said.
NOTE: This story was edited on 10/20/16 to clarify certain quotes.