In late 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of normalizing relations between the two countries, lifting travel restrictions in place since 1961. Now, tour operators have a unique opportunity to build new business in this recently opened market. It is essential for growth that all operators plan for excursions on this long-closed destination.
Opening the Market
Frank Del Rio, President of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, left Cuba when he was seven. This year, as Travel Weekly details, he returned for the first time in 54 years. He came away believing, “There may be more opportunity for the cruise industry in Cuba than there is in China.”
Norwegian isn’t the only one taking note. Carnival Corp. has already announced social impact travel, which sends passengers to the Dominican Republic to work on social causes. “Humanitarian projects,” one of the U.S. State Department’s few allowable reasons for travel to the country, look to be one of the biggest markets that will be open.
Planning for High-Demand Travel
With two of the largest cruise lines in the world already making plans for travel to Cuba, tour operators can’t afford not to begin planning for the future. Cuba is a mostly untapped market filled with nearly limitless potential. Because travel has been restricted for more than half a century, the demand is going to be extremely high.
While strict “tourism” may not be allowed by the State Department, there are many ways for tour operators to frame travel to the island. As Slate details, there are twelve official types of travel that do not require prior approval of the Department. One of particular note to tour operators is “educational activities.” These may include learning about Cuban history, experiencing nature on the island, or even a cultural exchange such as learning Spanish. In fact, nearly any type of tour could feasibly fall under “educational activities” – making this market potentially lucrative to operators.
A New Market with Huge Potential
Cuba has long been the lone untapped market in the Caribbean. However, the thaw in relations between the island and the U.S. has opened the possibility of new business with the nation. By planning ahead and learning how to frame their business, tour operators can get in on the Cuban market at the ground floor – ensuring that they don’t miss out on future business.