|Havana, Cuba // Photo by Jena Fox|
Ever since the U.S. and Cuba began the process of lifting travel restrictions between the two countries, agents across the U.S. have been asking the question: Is it better to get to Cuba before the American masses arrive, or is it smarter to wait for Cuba to become further prepared for the influx of U.S. tourists it is bound to get?
Many contend that Cuba’s hotel product might take a few years to be up to many U.S. tourists’ typical standards and that much of the infrastructure still needs to be improved before waves of American tourists crash onto the once-forbidden Caribbean island. But if you have big experiential travel buffs who want to see the unspoiled destinatin before it becomes overly commercialized, they should go now.
If you have clients looking to head there now, here are some the latest tour operators who recently announced new offerings to the once forbidden destination.
Travel Impressions will be accepting bookings for its "Rhythms of Cuba" and "Expressions of Cuba" tours, operating under the People-to-People program, one of the 12 pre-approved travel categories licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of Treasury.
As far as how these tours differentiate from the Cuba tours sold by Travel Impressions' sister operator, Apple Vacations, Erin McCarthy, vice president of marketing for Travel Impressions, says there are different departures and different itineraries in Travel Impressions' Cuba offerings.
Jeff Clarke, CEO and president of Travel Impressions, also noted that while Apple is targeting all travelers to Cuba, Travel Impressions is specifically targeting the affluent client.
The tours will depart from Miami International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Agents can arrange connections from all major U.S. gateways.
Travel Impressions is working with U.S.-based Cuba Travel Services, a Cuba-licensed operator that charters flights from Miami to Cuba with Sun Country Airlines and American Airlines. Connections to Miami can be arranged from all major U.S. gateways.
Travelers now also have the opportunity to experience Cuba as it currently is, still untouched by time, on Abercrombie & Kent’s first private journey, "Signature Cuba: A Private People to People Journey."
On this seven-day, privately guided itinerary, guests will travel with a dedicated Abercrombie & Kent program director and local guides, experiencing meaningful interactions and people-to-people connections.
Clients will explore the city by foot with a local architect who offers authentic insights into its historic styles and dine at a paladar (family-run restaurant) where the owners share their passion for Cuban cuisine and discuss what is involved in running a private business in Cuba – an opportunity that, historically, was all but unheard of. Clients can also join renowned Cuban painter and ceramicist, Jose Fuster, on a neighborhood walk, followed by a discussion of the role of the arts in contemporary Cuban culture.
Meanwhile, with Apple Vacations' tours to Cuba completely sold out for 2015 and 2016 departures selling quickly, the tour operator has created an exclusive eight-night "Seascape Discovery" tour.
This new tour features one pre-night in Miami, four nights in Havana at the Iberostar Parque Central, three nights in Varadero at the Iberostar Varadero, comprehensive sightseeing tours, interactions with local artists, salsa lessons, a boat ride through an underground river, pottery demonstrations, rum and cigar tastings, and authentic Cuban cuisine.
The eight-night Seascape Discovery is priced from $5,550 per person, based on double occupancy, with the following departure dates: February 13, March 26, April 30, May 28, June 25, July 30, August 27, September 24 and October 29, 2016.
Prices include Cuban health insurance, charter flights departing from Miami (connecting flights from other US cities available), Cuban tourist visa processing, and U.S. taxes and fees. A Cuban departure tax of $25 per passenger will be collected upon check-in at Miami International Airport.
Travel to Cuba must be booked 64 days in advance of departure to allow ample time for the processing of required documentation. Travelers will receive an orientation in Miami to ensure familiarity with Cuban laws, policies and traditions prior to arrival in Cuba.
Island Destinations (ID) also recently announced at the addition of Cuba to the ID ULTIMATE Itineraries division. ID Travel Group has invested substantially in designing full-time people-to-people exchanges for travelers to experience the charm of Cubans and their proud culture. The program features exclusively planned visits to private homes and businesses in Havana and Trinidad de Cuba for a unique and rich experience on the unspoiled island.
On Cox & Kings' newly launched trips to Cuba, clients can visit schools, artists' studios and cigar factories in Havana and then delve into the countryside, meeting with organic farmers, and exploring the underground wonderland of Pinar del Rio.
Travelers can choose from either a Cox & Kings Luxury Escorted Group Journey or a Select Private Journey.
The Visa Process
While it's true that government sanctions have been eased, American citizens still need a visa and travel affidavit to enter Cuba. This means it remains illegal for Americans to travel as simple tourists.
Instead, the Department of Treasury lists the permitted reasons to visit Cuba under the general license. There are twelve of them, including family visits, official government business, journalistic activity, professional research, professional meetings, educational activities, and religious activities. Travel Agent recommends the People-to-People visa, which is intended to facilitate cultural exchanges between the two countries.