PHOTO: A classic car in Havana, Cuba. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Nearly 22 percent of its leisure-focused travel agents have already booked clients for Cuba travel in 2017 while more than 59 percent said clients are interested in going this year, according to a Travel Leaders Group survey.
Travel Leaders Group noted that its survey results corroborate data from Cuban officials. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator in talks with the United States, who said recently that the combined total of visits by Cuban-Americans and other U.S. travelers last year was 614,433, a 34 percent increase over 2015.
This hike in demand comes despite the continued U.S. government restrictions limiting approved travel to the island nation via 12 authorized categories, said Travel Leaders Group.
“While there is some uncertainty about the views of the current U.S. Administration on the future of Cuban relations, the momentum of public opinion among the American traveling public for unfettered access to Cuba continues,” said Travel Leaders Group CEO Ninan Chacko.
“Based not only on our survey, but also on anecdotal feedback travelers are giving to their travel agents, more Americans are taking advantage of the avenues available to them to legally travel to this once forbidden island that is less than 100 miles from Key West, Florida,” he said.
“Our travel agent experts are continuing to assist clients who have a desire to visit Cuba this year by observing the existing law, and they are preparing travelers for culturally-immersive experiences that these travelers will remember for a lifetime.”
Travel Leaders Group also pointed to statistics from a Pew Research Center national survey, conducted in December. The survey found that 75 percent of U.S. adults approve of the decision last year to re-establish U.S. relations with Cuba and nearly as many (73%) favor ending the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
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Travel Leaders noted that there is now regularly scheduled air service to Cuba for the first time in 50 years. Delta Air Lines opened the first U.S. airline ticket office in Havana last November, American Airlines will operate 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities this year, and United Airlines, as well as five other U.S.-based carriers, will have regularly scheduled flights to Cuba.
Major cruise lines also are sailing to Cuba this year. Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have scheduled sailings through November.
In the Travel Leaders Group survey, 1,097 leisure-focused agents were asked, “Are clients expressing interest in traveling to Cuba in 2017?” The responses included:
Yes, we’ve booked many clients already.
Yes, we’ve booked some clients already.
Yes, we’ve booked a few clients already.
Yes, but interest has not yet translated to bookings.
For clients interested in traveling to Cuba this year, the top five responses for when they’d want to go were:
1. When they can do it as an independent trip rather than people-to-people exchange program
2. Right away before Cuba changes dramatically
3. As part of a cruise vacation
4. When the prices decrease
5. When they can enjoy it as a regular beach vacation
The Cuba findings are part of a comprehensive travel trends survey of nearly 1,700 U.S. based travel agents from Travel Leaders Group’s flagship Travel Leaders brand, All Aboard Travel, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network, and Tzell Travel Group. It was conducted from Nov. 17 to Dec. 9, 2016.