Slate of new hotels, tours, air charters on tap in Cuba for 2016

Having welcomed 2.6 million visitors through September, Cuba appears poised for another record-setting year, on track to top last year’s 3 million visitors.

Keeping pace with visitor numbers is the tourism picture, which continues to evolve in terms of hotel product, charter airlift and tour programs.

Spain-based Ocean by H10 Hotels will up its Cuban presence with two new all-inclusive resorts. Opening in January is the 800-room Ocean Casa del Mar in Cayo Santa Maria, an island off Cuba’s north central coast, and the 470-room Ocean Vista Azul in Varadero, which will debut in December. Both will join Ocean by H10 Hotels’ current Cuba portfolio, which includes a resort in Varadero and a hotel in Havana.

CheapAir.com will launch three charter flights on American Airlines from Los Angeles to Havana on Dec. 12, 19 and 26, and Delta has indicated that it plans weekly charter service from Atlanta to Havana, beginning April 2, according to news reports.

Delta has not announced which charter operator it would partner with on the route. The carrier operated charter flights to Cuba in 2011 and 2012 but discontinued them after weak demand.

In the tour program arena, Abercrombie & Kent will launch its first Signature Cuba: A Private People to People Journey, with departures from Jan. 12 through Dec. 20.

On the seven-day, privately guided itinerary through Havana and environs, guests travel with an A&K program director and local guides and explore Cuban architecture and music, meet with a former Cuban foreign services scholar, tour an arts museum, take a salsa lesson and dine in paladares (family-run restaurants), among other activities.

The itinerary is similar in part to A&K’s other people-to-people program, which is geared to a maximum of 24 participants, but the new Signature journey is limited to as few as two participants and includes more in-depth exploration of Cuban people and culture.

The price starts at $10,795 per person, based on two persons traveling together.

A&K’s current 10-day people-to-people program, with 2016 departures from Jan. 5 through Dec. 13, starts at $6,695 per person, up from $6,295 in 2015.

“The 2016 price is higher than the 2015 price due to demand,” an A&K representative said. “There aren’t enough hotels to fill the need.”

Ya’lla Tours is offering seven Cuba departures next year, including an Afro Jazz Cuba itinerary scheduled for Dec. 13 to 20 to coincide with the Havana International Jazz Festival.

In the past, the FIT specialist has designed trips for those interested in attending the festival, but with 2016’s set itinerary, “this time we are giving travel agents a chance to book into that departure,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours USA.

The trip, priced at $5,995 per person, double, enables visitors to attend the festival concerts of their choice during the evening and includes a chance to meet with Cuban musicians for a discussion of “the current expressions and manifestations of Afro-Cuban jazz,” according to the itinerary.

Central Holidays, which currently offers five people-to-people Cuba programs, has a new 10-day Afro-Cubanismo program, named after the artistic movement from the 1920s that highlighted the struggle for independence from Spain and slavery.

Nine departures are set from Jan. 15 through Dec. 23, priced from $4,199 per person.

“We’ve lined up Cuba’s top historians and experts to lead the tours,” said Gianni Miradoli, CEO. “Participants visit artists’ studios and performance spaces and dine with artists and community representatives. We’ve built in plenty of downtime so guests can make their own un-programmed discoveries.”

New Cuba entrant Island Destinations’ Ultimate Itineraries-Cuba features exclusive visits to private homes and businesses in Havana.

“We believe that Cuba represents an exciting destination, and as travel professionals we have a duty to present this destination, which has opened up to us due to the changing political situation,” said Maurice Bonham-Carter, president and CEO.

“If you want culture, an ultimate experience and a destination that people can talk about around the table, that is Cuba,” he said.

The four-night program, which can be booked as an FIT or group package with a maximum of eight participants, has frequent departures through Dec. 25, 2016; rates start at $5,245 per person, double, not including roundtrip charter air from Miami.

By Gay Nagle Myers, Travel Weekly

December 3, 2015

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