|From left to right, Peggy Goldman, president and founder of Friendly Planet Travel, and Iian Fink, her husband and business partner. // Photo by Joe Pike|
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.
Then there are those who say to get there now before Cuba loses its authenticity and becomes more commercialized.
For Peggy Goldman, the president and founder of Friendly Planet Travel, the answer is quite simple. Clients looking for a typical Caribbean beach vacation with high-end all-inclusive resorts should wait about two or three years before they visit the country, she says. On the other hand, Goldman says clients who want to see Cuba for its culture and wealth of experiential travel offerings should plan their Cuba vacation now.
“The People-to-People program will continue (after Cuba is fully open to the U.S. for tourism),” says Goldman, who spoke with several travel trade journalists during a private meeting in New York earlier this week. “It may not be mandated but it will still meet the demand for people who want a cultural experience and not a typical beach destination in the Caribbean.”
|Havana, Cuba. // Photo by Joe Pike|
For those who aren't terribly familiar with the program, the People-to-People initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, essentially, as the name implies, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country. It was implemented by President Clinton in 1999 and suspended by President Bush in 2004 before President Obama resurrected the program. Although specific People-to-People licenses are no longer being issued, all travelers are still required to have a General License but still on a People-to-People itinerary.
“After a while, we see that there is going to be a fatigue factor among the locals (participating in cultural experiences with Americans),” says Goldman. “Right now, it still feels like a fresh, authentic experience, but we expect it to become less and less authentic and more commercialized as time goes on.”
And you can also kiss those classic American automobiles that Cuba has become famous for goodbye.
“If the government gives the owners permission to sell those beautiful classic cars, you are going to see them sucked from Cuba like a vacuum,” Goldman says.
As for the client looking for a typical, Caribbean vacation, Goldman suggests perhaps waiting, noting that it's quite common to deal with some hotel mishaps from door knobs falling off bathroom doors to electricity issues in the rooms.
"The all-inclusives in Cuba right now are not really what the U.S. traveler comes to expect when they go to typical beach destinations in the Caribbean," she says.
Friendly Planet Travel is owned by Goldman and her husband, business partner and former hotelier, Ilan Fink. Goldman remains Friendly Planet’s official spokesperson and is frequently sought for her opinion on news and trends affecting the travel industry. Goldman has appeared in various news outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, FOX News, SmartMoney, National Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times. Goldman is a member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN), International Air Travel Association and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).