Despite the Trump administration’s measures and the mysterious plot of the sonic attacks, U.S. travel agencies and other companies linked to tourism prefer to remain in Cuba and even grow.
A month ago, a group of these companies meeting in Havana launched a loud and clear message: the island continues being legal, safe and hospitable for U.S. visitors. At that time, some 20 tour operators, airlines and cruise companies were unanimous about the inconsistency of the restrictions applied by the government of Donald Trump and the importance of continuing to promote visits to Cuba.
Last Tuesday, the Cuba Travel Services (CTS) agency took a step further. The California-based company announced the opening of an office in Havana next March 31, which will turn it into the first U.S. travel company with its own venue in Cuba in more than 60 years.
Michael Zuccato, general manager of CTS, commented that getting the Ministry of Tourism to grant this permit to have a location in Cuba has been a victory for their organization, adding that their physical presence means that their clients will obtain a faster service and a more personalized attention directly from their personnel.
He went on to say that this a very exciting moment for them, being the first U.S.-based travel company to open its doors in Havana, and he added that they are confident that their experience and knowledge of the market combined with the local representation will have a bearing on a greater experience for clients.
The CTS office will be located in the Lonja del Comercio, in the San Francisco de Asís Square, a privileged location in the Historic Center of Havana, facing the Sierra Maestra cruise terminal. The agency will provide several services, among them the sale of plane tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals, excursions and programmed packages.
In addition, it plans to open other venues in Cuba, not just in Havana but also in Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Varadero and Santiago, according to what the company reported.
With around two decades of experience, the CTS currently has offices in California, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas. The company offers services for specialized trips, including charter flights, private aviation services, hotel reservations, excursions, visa processing, cruise programs and shipments of authorized cargo, according to the regulations of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Previously, U.S. airlines like JetBlue and American Airlines also opened offices in Havana.
After two years of trips, the enchantment of the U.S. cruise lines with Cuba does nothing more than increase. To date in 2017 there have already been several announcements of new itineraries for the next seasons.
This week, Carnival Cruise Line – one of the brands of the company by the same name – announced 17 new trips to the island in 2019 on board the Carnival Sensation.
The five-day trips will have Miami as the port of departure and return and will include one day in the Cuban capital. In addition, they will make stopovers in others places in the Caribbean like Grand Turk, Grand Cayman, Nassau and the private destinations of Half Moon Cay and Princess Cays.
The Carnival Sensation’s trips will join the line’s itineraries from Tampa on board the Carnival Paradise, with programmed stopovers in Cuba for the 2018-2019 seasons.
In relation to the new announced trips, Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said that their inaugural cruises to Cuba on board the Carnival Paradise from Tampa got an exceptional reception from guests and that they were delighted to expand the program with their first cruises to Cuba from Miami with stopovers in Havana and some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful islands and the Bahamas.
With capacity for around 2,000 passengers, Carnival Sensation’s trips to the island will start in April 2019 and will last until December with different itineraries in the Caribbean region.
The company’s press release indicates that the guests who sail on the cruise ships through Cuba can choose among almost 20 different land excursion experiences that show the vibrant culture of the island, its majestic beauty and the centuries-old architectural monuments.
Carnival Cruise Line is the largest cruise operator in terms of passengers transported per year. The main company, Carnival Corporation, in May of 2016 became the first U.S. company to travel to Cuba in more than half a century, with the Adonia ship of its Fathom brand.
In recent weeks, other U.S. cruise companies, like Norwegian Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, also announced new journeys to the island. This increase evidences these companies’ interest in Cuba, confirmed by their executives in an international meeting held in Havana last November.
According to official statistics, Cuba received close to 620,000 U.S. visitors in 2017, despite not being able to travel to the island as tourists but rather as part of a dozen travel categories authorized by their country’s government.
The restrictions and warnings of the Trump administration on Cuba have generated uncertainty among Americans and in the Cuban tourist industry, which forecasts five million visitors for 2018. However, the fact that U.S. travel agencies and cruise companies are growing on the island supposes a climate of optimism.