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    Is demand for travel to Cuba flattening?

    Demand for travel to Cuba may be flattening, with soaring hotel prices
    on the island, American Airlines cutting some flights, and uncertainty
    over whether new travel restrictions could be imposed when Donald Trump
    takes office.

    Gregory Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, a tour company that’s taken
    3,000 Americans to Cuba, confirms there has been a softening in demand.

    In part he blamed hotel prices on the island, which have nearly doubled
    since 2015 and which are set by the government. “There’s still demand
    but there’s only so much people can afford,” he said. Cheaper lodging is
    available through Airbnb and other services, but not all travelers want
    the hassles and uncertainty of traveling on their own in Cuba.

    Geronemus said “Zika has cast a shadow” on the region too, despite the
    Cuban government’s assertion that mosquito abatement efforts have been
    successful. Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, can cause birth defects.

    While an increasing number of airlines are offering flights, American
    Airlines is cutting three of its 13 daily flights to Cuba beginning Feb.
    16 and switching to smaller planes on some routes, said spokesman Matt
    Miller. He added that adjustments are common with new service and that
    the reduction was made before the presidential election.

    ForwardKeys, which compiles data based on global reservations
    transactions, says it has not detected a drop in bookings for Cuba. And
    Cuban government statistics show an 80 percent increase in visits by
    Americans the first six months of this year over the same period in
    2015, from 76,183 to 136,913. In the last few weeks, several U.S.
    airlines started regular commercial flights to Cuba. United Airlines
    launched Newark-Havana flights Nov. 29 and Saturday service from Houston
    on Dec. 3. Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said the airline is “prepared to
    work with the new administration” going forward. JetBlue, which also
    just launched service, would not provide specifics but said “we are
    pleased with how flights to Cuba are selling.”

    Tanner Callais of Austin, Texas, who runs a cruise website called, had hoped to cruise to Cuba in 2017.

    But “now with some of the things I’ve heard about tightening up
    restrictions on travel to Cuba, we’re taking a wait and see approach,”
    he said. “The last thing we want to do is put a lot of money down for a
    trip and then have the cruise cancelled due to new restrictions put in

    Others are booking trips as soon as they can, fearing a Cuba travel ban
    under Trump. “Ordinarily we book trips three to six months ahead but
    people are calling this week to register for trips three weeks from
    now,” said Kimberly Haley-Coleman, executive director of GlobeAware,
    which organizes volunteer trips.

    Though Geronemus says the softening started “long before Trump was
    elected,” some travelers are asking for reassurance that they’d be
    covered if travel gets banned between the time they book their tickets
    and their planned trip. That has smarTours promising a full refund or
    credit for a discounted trip elsewhere should new rules make it
    impossible to go ahead with a trip, Geronemus says.

    Erika Richter, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents,
    says “some people we talk to are convinced that everything will be
    rolled back on Jan. 21. Others think, as a hospitality industry leader,
    (Trump) will not follow through. So, I think it’s probable but not
    guaranteed that we see a roll back in early 2017.”

    But what Trump has in mind for Cuba is unclear. Three days after Fidel
    Castro’s death, the president-elect tweeted: “If Cuba is unwilling to
    make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and
    the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

    Some critics believe the Obama administration should have held out for
    democratic and human rights reforms as part of the loosening of travel
    restrictions. But others think that stimulating Cuba’s economy through
    travel — including inroads by U.S. cruise, hotel and tour companies
    there — is the best way to bring change.

    On Wednesday, two U.S. cruise companies, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings
    and Royal Caribbean International received permission from the Cuban
    government to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. In May, Carnival Corp. became
    the first U.S. company in decades to run cruises to Cuba.

    Haley-Coleman thinks the most likely scenario is a return to strict
    enforcement of rules for permitted types of trips. Even under President
    Obama, Americans can’t go to Cuba as regular tourists. They have to
    certify that their trip falls into one of 12 permitted categories,
    including educational, humanitarian or cultural travel. Right now,
    though, that certification is done on the honor system. Haley-Coleman
    thinks Trump may require itineraries be pre-approved to ensure Americans
    are not just drinking mojitos on the beach.

    Also Wednesday, a group of Cuban entrepreneurs traveled to Washington to
    deliver a letter asking Trump to support increased U.S. travel, trade
    and investment with Cuba. As owners of restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts
    and other businesses, they said that continued engagement with the U.S.
    is essential for progress and growth on the island.

    Source: Is demand for travel to Cuba flattening? | SavannahNow –

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