Hear from tour operators — Collette, Mayflower Tours and Ralph Velasco Cultural Tours — for information and tips on travel to Cuba.
With all the hullabaloo about the recent changes in Cuba travel, it may be hard to understand just where you stand in regard to group trips and tours. In a Q&A session, we delve into tour operators’ perspectives on the lifting of Cuba travel restrictions to provide you with credible information from those heavily involved.
What is your reaction to Cuba’s travel restrictions being lifted?
Ralph Velasco, a professional photographer who operates PhotoEnrichment Programs, Inc., says, “I think there’s a misconception that now all of a sudden U.S. citizens can jump on a plane and travel to Cuba. This is not the case at all, and in my opinion, probably won’t be for at least 12 to 24 months, if not longer. Just as with anything, there are both good and bad consequences to opening up Cuba as I don’t think the infrastructure is in place to handle a huge influx of additional travelers right now, and it will take years before enough hotels, qualified guides, restaurants and other services are up and running to cater to this increased volume.”
Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette, says, “Easing restrictions creates opportunity for travel providers and US guests, which will result in more travel to Cuba. It is a positive move that encourages communication, cultural interaction and goodwill. We will continue to offer our Rediscover Cuba program that provides the ‘people to people’ educational experiences which truly immerses guests in the Cuban culture.”
Mary Novak-Beatty, vice president of marketing of Mayflower Tours, says, “Mayflower Tours welcomes the new opportunities for all to see this remarkable country and believes strongly in sharing all destinations in the world with our travelers. That is why John and Mary Stachnik, founders and co-owners of Mayflower Tours, traveled to Cuba and developed the itinerary we are offering travelers.”
How are these changes affecting the volume of calls/bookings with your Cuba business?
Twidale: “We are encouraged by the new changes because lessening the barriers to international travel encourages peace and cooperation. Increased travel and tourism results in a stronger economy and more jobs here in the U.S. Collette is positioned well to accommodate the increased interest in Cuba, including call volume and product resources. We are excited that the process will be less onerous and fewer guests will shy away from venturing to this culturally diverse destination.”
Velasco: “We’re seeing a huge increase in interest from U.S. citizens looking to travel to Cuba. Our programs, which operate under the People-to-People license, are filling up quickly, although we do limit them to just 11 participants maximum in order to provide the best possible experience for our clients to get to really know the Cuban people.”
Novak-Beatty: “We have seen stronger interest in traveling to Cuba and more questions to clarify the revisions to the travel policy. This has resulted in increased bookings.”
Do you have any tips for groups thinking about putting Cuba on their radar?
Novak-Beatty: “The best advice is to seek out an experienced tour operator who has developed the program to maximize the experience for their travelers. Also, to make plans for their group to see the ‘current’ Cuba – as even more changes develop, the opportunities to experience the destination in its purity will subside and you may miss the authentic beauty of the people and the culture the destination currently has.”
Velasco: “If I had one piece of advice for anyone looking to travel Cuba, it’d be to go now. I’ve seen quite a few changes in Cuba over the past five years that I’ve been going, most of which are for the better for the Cubans themselves, but there’s a huge opportunity to see this fascinating country, warts and all, before the patina clears away, if people go sooner rather than later.”
Twidale: “Don’t hesitate to book! The demand will continue and the infrastructure may be challenged to keep up with the rapid growth. Collette has successfully operated tours to Cuba for the past few years and currently have programs available to enjoy. The easing of restrictions allows opportunity now but a sense of urgency exists because an embargo is still in place and laws could change.”
What now? Give one of these tour operators a call to book your group trip to Cuba as soon as possible! Armed with the most updated information, experienced tour operators have your back amidst the bombardment of Cuba travel news.