President Obama’s trip to Cuba last week did more than just make for cutesy photo ops — it helps further pave the way for American travelers to finally visit the Caribbean’s largest island.
Indeed, since the resumption of US-Cuban relations, American cruise lines, air carriers and hotel brands have announced major deals across the nation.
At the same time, the US government has repealed many of the ordinances banning travel to Cuba — which means this long off-limits country is poised for major growth.
Upon arrival, “guests should not expect comparable services to the US in the hospitality sector,” says Eddie Lubbers, CEO of Cuba Travel Network.
But Yankees don’t seem to mind.
American travel to Cuba has surged 77 percent over the past year, and getting there will only becomes easier.
There are less than a handful of direct charter flights between the US and Cuba today. But that will soon change in a big way.
“Up to 110 daily flights” from the US could be coming to Cuba, Lubbers says.
United is leading the pack, already filing paperwork with the Department of Transportation to serve Cuba from Newark, Houston, Washington, DC, and Chicago; most major carriers will soon apply as well. Flights won’t begin till late this year, experts say, though once they do, prices should fall by half.
Up to a dozen US airports will likely fly direct to Cuba.
Industry leader Starwood made big news earlier this month when it announced a management contract with three top Havana hotels — including a pair of luxury grande dames, the Hotel Santana Isabel and Inglaterra.
Starwood is embarking on a multimillion-dollar investment program to bring these properties to company standards, according to Jorge Giannattasio, chief of Latin American operations. Lubbers estimates the properties will be ready for guests early next year.
Cruise giant Carnival recently won approval to begin sailing this May between the US and Cuba. The island will be served by Carnival’s Fathom brand, which prides itself on “social impact-focused” cruises in the region. “Today we’ve made history,” Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said during the announcement last week. Additional cruise lines are expected to follow, Lubbers says.
Travelers should anticipate “a different style of cruising” than they’re used to. Think “cruises that focus on volunteerism and social impact — including educational, artistic and humanitarian activities.” The themes ensure the US companies’ itineraries fall within the “people-to-people”-style trips now legal under US law, which prioritize cultural exchange over beaches and sightseeing.