Cuba travel staying strong, operators say

By Gay Nagle Myers

As summer travel plans heat up, it appears that the lure of Cuba travel is stronger than ever, according to U.S. operators of the people-to-people programs.

Travel staying strong

Interest in the programs, during which American citizens interact with Cubans in various walks of life, has led operators to increase departures, lengthen itineraries and add activities and opportunities for cultural exchange and dialogue.

“Our people-to-people program received overwhelming response from our guests during the past year,” ,” said Keith Baron senior vice president, Abercrombie & Kent. “They consistently shared that their experiences were engaging, authentic and meaningful, given the nature of the educational exchange.

“We hope to be able to continue to offer these programs well into the future,” he said. “There appears to be continuing and expanding interest from U.S. travelers.”

Ya’lla Tours added 15 trips between May 2014 and April 2015, according to Ronen Paldi, president, Ya’lla Tours USA. Some are already sold out.
The operator reported a 50% jump in bookings from January through March compared with the same period in 2013.

Collette Vacations reported a 15% jump year-over-year in its Rediscover Cuba program.
“The bookings reflect growing interest among U.S. visitors to connect with the people of Cuba,” said Patrick Gallagher, product manager.

“We anticipate bookings to remain steady throughout 2014.”
Guest satisfaction reached a new high, and the number of Insight Cuba travelers in the first quarter was up 15% over the same period last year, according to President Tom Popper.

“What’s notable is that November and December tours are booking way ahead of schedule,” Popper said. “We have 30-plus tours scheduled for those two months and may add more dates.”

He noted that hoteliers in Havana are reporting more sold-out properties this month than in any other month in the past.

“The outlook for travel to Cuba is bright,” he added. “Regarding this upward trend, I think travel agents could be doing a lot more with Cuba as a destination for their clients. Yes, it’s more complicated, but our guests love the experience — so much so that 7% travel with us again.”

Friendly added a third program to its Cuba portfolio this year and did well in the first quarter, with sales a bit higher than Q1 of 2013, according to Peggy Goldman, president.

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