Less than three years after the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with Cuba following a 50-plus-year freeze—and less than seven months after U.S. airlines were allowed to restore service to the island nation for the first time since the early 1960s—the travel bubble seems to have burst.
JetBlue and American Airlines have reduced their schedules to Cuba. Just this week, Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines ended service altogether. And on the seas, Royal Caribbean is ending its Fathom sailings to Cuba in June.
Did the travel community, in all its enthusiasm, over-estimate the popularity of visiting Cuba?
Perhaps. There is supply; there is demand. In this instance, there appears to be neither enough supply nor demand to justify such an ambitious schedule set forth by the airlines months ago.
Cuba is not quite ready from an infrastructure standpoint (supply) while the airlines let their collective imaginations get away from them (demand).
That is, the airlines were correct that there would be interest in travel to Cuba, but they made too many seats available.
In many ways, Cuba represented the last great frontier for the United States travel industry. Residents from our border neighbors, (Canada and Mexico), have long been able to travel to Havana. Our friends in Europe have been able to visit for the five decades while Americans could only dream about that Cuban rum and those cigars. What made things worse was the fact the island is just 90 miles off our coast.
It should have been like going to Bermuda.
READ MORE Traveling to Cuba On Your Own
So there was an intrigue, a mystery, about having a dalliance for Cuba. There still likely is.
It just didn’t happen all at once, like everybody thought.
Another issue: a lack of education about Cuba. When the Department of Transportation announced which U.S. airlines were allowed to fly there, and to which cities, American would-be tourists—two generations removed from the last time U.S. citizens were allowed to visit—knew nothing more than Havana.
Not everybody wanted to go to outlying cities such as Varadero, as beautiful as they might be. Which is ironic, of course, because according to the Brookings Institute, only about one in five Cuban hotel rooms and just 13 percent of four- and five-star accommodations are located in Havana.
And, let’s face it: Cuba is still a repressive society.
It all added up to the perfect storm.
READ MORE Which Airline Loyalty Program is Best for Cheap Caribbean Flights?
Will airlines adjust? Of course. Silver and Frontier are smaller, budget airlines with neither the expansive fleet nor the revenue to match an American Airlines or Southwest or United or JetBlue. When those carriers cut service by 25 percent, it might as well be 100 percent for the smaller airlines.
So travel to Cuba will continue. But it will be far less ambitious than it has been until supply and demand figure each other out.