Travel to Cuba: What Travel Agents Need to Know [Video]

by Sally Bahner

Ever since President Barack Obama announced the thawing of travel restrictions to Cuba in January, the travel industry has been abuzz about the possibilities.

For many people, the most exciting news is that those much-lusted-after Cuban cigars are now legal.

But what about travel to Cuba?

Not so fast.

Although there are 12 reasons why people can visit Cuba without a special license, pundits agree that it will still be a while before travel to Cuba becomes a full-fledged phenomenon.

So what do travel agents need to know?

According to the American Society of Travel Agents, “Under the new rules, any travel agent can book travel to Cuba for their clients as long as the trip complies with current law and regulations and the client certifies as much. That certification and other records must be kept for five years.”

The new rules are explained in a document from the Federal Register.

Tom Dougherty of Travel Weekly believes that Cuban “is poised to set the Caribbean, maybe even the entire tropical destination market, on its ear.” He goes on to say that unlike Jamaica where tourists seldom stray from their all-inclusive resorts, Cuban travelers (he distinguishes between the two) want to mingle with the locals. “Its promise is the unscripted, not the rack brochure,” Dougherty says.

An increasing number of tour operators are becoming licensed and are offering educational programs, but they are not inexpensive.

Travel to Cuba

Credit: visitcuba.com. Cienfuegos

According to Laura Del Rosso, writing in Travel Weekly, most agents hadn’t received a lot of calls, “but it doesn’t seem to have dampened their enthusiasm for what they feel will eventually be a sure-fire travel hot spot.”

Pent up demand is cited, as well as proximity to Florida. It’s being seen as a viable opportunity for the near future, especially in terms of adding another dimension to Caribbean cruises.

However, there’s work to be done before Cuba can become a regular port of call. Canadian-based cruise ship operator Cuba Cruise, which isn’t affected by the embargo, has seen a doubling of inquiries. The company is using a smaller, older ship, Louis Cristal. US-based companies are keeping an eye on the situation, but acknowledge that many ports are incapable of handling large ships such as Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas or have infrastructure problems. Smaller companies such as Cristal Cruises may have a better shot at accessing Cuban ports of call.

Mobile, Alabama, is exploring a Mobile to Havana cruise itinerary. A long-idle terminal could be put back into service, and a tourism official says it’s a “straight shot” to Cuba. Critics say that existing ports in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas can handle the additional volume.

And some entrepreneurs are exploring the possibility of reinstating ferry service to Cuba. Ferry service was halted in the early 1960s when Castro came to power.

In terms of flights to Cuba, CheapAir.com has just started booking flights to Cuba, but has experienced technical difficulties that may have been caused by an increase in online traffic. However, it’s still illegal for an airline to sell direct or connecting flights to Cuba, so what CheapAir.com is doing is repacking two itineraries into a single purchase. That means the first flight must be to a country from which a traveler can legally fly to Cuba, such as Mexico.

Travel to Cuba will become more popular as restrictions are eased. Savvy travel agents will keep an eye on this growing market.

travel to cuba

Credit: experiencetherealcuba.com. Plaza Mayor

Travel to Cuba: What Travel Agents Need to Know [Video] was last modified: March 19th, 2015 by Kelly Monaghan