Saturday 26 September 2015

CUBA: Cuba Tours Reflect Increased Demand

Cuba has dominated much of the travel news this year, which is shaping up to be a record-breaker in terms of the country's tourism numbers. According to the Ministry of Tourism, 2 million tourists visited Cuba between Jan. 1 and July 10, up 17 percent over the same period in 2014; for all of 2014, Cuba saw a record 3 million visitors.

The ministry attributed the strong performance thus far this year to a surge in visitors from its source markets of Canada, the U.K., Spain, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and the U.S. No breakdown of the U.S. visitors was available, although U.S. tour operators offering people-to-people programs report increased demand, and some, such as Insight Cuba, are adding departures and creating new itineraries to meet that demand.

Insight Cuba, which offers several land-based Cuba programs, recently announced its first eight-day Sail Cuba tour, with multiple departures aboard the Panorama and Panorama II from Dec. 6 through April 23, priced from $4,899 per person, double. The company joined the ranks of other companies offering the sail-around-Cuba option.

Traditional cruises to Cuba are still banned, but cruises that conform to the people-to-people regulations are allowed, and the ranks are growing. Haimark, the Chicago-based small-ship line, will offer 10-day cruises from Miami to Cuba starting in February aboard the 210-passenger St. Laurent. The cruises will be operated in partnership with United Caribbean Lines, which has U.S. Treasury Department approval for ferry service between Florida and Cuba.

Connecticut-based Pearl Seas plans to launch people-to-people cruises in April from South Florida to Cuba aboard the 210-passenger Pearl Mist. Fathom, Carnival Corp.'s new voluntourism brand, is awaiting Cuban government approval to begin operations in May aboard the 710-passenger Adonia.

International Expeditions, which has multiple departures through March 2017 on its 10-day Cuba Voyage program aboard the 48-passenger Panorama, is waiving the single supplement fee in select cabins on all sailings.

"We've made every effort to make our journeys open and inclusive for all travelers, and that includes keeping the single supplements as low as possible and waiving fees throughout the year, not just at the last minute," said International Expeditions President Van Perry.

Ranks are swelling, as well, for land-based people-to-people programs as more operators join the groundswell of companies eager to enter the Cuban market. Journeys International's new Rhythm of a Lively Land 10-day program departs Feb. 9 (women only) and March 22. "Our travelers will meet local artisans, young entrepreneurs and social welfare program managers," said Robin Weber Pollak, president.

"They will unpack the complexities of U.S.-Cuba relations and try to understand the many layers of Cuban society with input from diverse personalities." Zegrahm Expeditions added a Nov. 3, 2016, departure on its Heart of Cuba program after quickly selling out its January and February 2016 dates.

New entrant AdventureWomen offers a mix of the outdoors and culture on its Music, Cuisine & the Arts program, departing May 5 and Oct. 13, 2016. The women-only, 10-day program includes encounters with scientists, animal keepers, botanists, biologists, artists, farmers and historians with a focus on the natural environment and the island's wildlife. "We want to see Cuba now, while it is still strong, healthy and alive," according to the message on the AdventureWomen website.

The Center for Responsible Travel (Crest) has partnered with Cuba Educational Travel for its first Cuba program, an eight-day people-to-people tour highlighting Cuba's marine, cultural and natural tourism offerings.

The tour departs Jan. 24, but Crest "is happily prepared to schedule a second trip if demand exceeds available spots," according to its website.

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