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Cuba exceeds expectations for tour operators


Ever since the U.S. government halted travel to Cuba in 2004, desire to explore the country has been building. Since the government lifted travel restrictions on people-to-people travel in 2011, more people have been booking Cuban tours than most tour operators predicted.

However, gaining a people-to-people license involves a complicated Treasury Department application process, which has caused some tour operators to back out. Abercrombie and Kent pulled its program not long after releasing it, pending a review. Globus Family of Brands also continues to delay release of its Cuba departure dates pending more information.

Insight Cuba became one of the first companies in 2011 to receive a license and has six itineraries with 126 departures running through August 2012. The company plans to add more departures and itineraries to different areas of Cuba, since the response exceeded expectations.

“We announced the programs in July and by mid-December had booked 2,000 passengers,” said Tom Popper, director of Insight Cuba.

National Geographic Expeditions received its Cuba license in August and started out with 12 departures on a 10-day Cuba people-to-people program to run through May 12.

“The interest has been phenomenal,” said Lynn Cutter, senior vice president of travel and business development for the National Geographic Society. “We now have 25 departures scheduled, nearly all are sold out and we are working on securing more dates.”

“Rediscover Cuba  A Cultural Exploration” is a program started by Collette Vacations to encourage educational exchange activities in the country. The company has reported huge demand for the new tour that visits the cities of Trinidad and Havana. Cultural experiences, such as meeting a Cuban family, visiting an orphanage and meeting local nuns, are built into the tour.

“Cuba represents the educational travel opportunity of a lifetime,” said Dan Sullivan, president and CEO of Collette Vacations. “I believe it’s a place many American travelers are eager to learn about, and the demand we’ve seen proves that. It’s all about bringing two cultures together.”

Tour operators continue to develop Cuban excursions, including Austin-Lehman Adventures and Friendly Planet. Both Cuban newcomers have reported incredible demand from past clients and new travelers.

For more information, read the Travel Weekly article.