Cruise lines, ferries, airlines gear up for Cuba
Cruise lines, ferries, airlines gear up for Cuba
Doreen Hemlock and Arlene Satchell, SUN SENTINEL
POSTED: Sunday, August 2, 2015, 3:01 AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – From cruise lines to ferries to airlines,
businesses are getting in line to shepherd masses of Americans to the
long-forbidden island of Cuba.
Many hope to benefit quickly under new U.S. rules allowing “purposeful”
trips such as humanitarian or educational missions without a license.
Others are preparing for what appears to be the inevitable day when the
United States permits open travel.
The latest to act was Carnival Corp., which announced that it would
begin cruises to the island in May for cultural exchanges.
But so many more businesses are interested that South Florida lawyer
Pedro Freyre calls it “a tsunami.” His team at Cuba Practice Group at
law firm Akerman L.L.P. has visited the island at least 10 times this
year, mainly accompanying clients looking to develop travel business.
Cuba is banking on tourism as an economic engine, especially if
financially troubled Venezuela reduces support to the island. Cuba
already ranks as the second-largest tourist destination in the Caribbean
(surpassed by the Dominican Republic) and could become tops. Americans
accounted for roughly one in six of Cuba’s three million visitors last
year, mainly Cuban Americans visiting family. With unrestricted U.S.
travel, about 1.5 million additional Americans might visit yearly, Cuban
Already under new rules this year, visits by Americans without family in
Cuba rose 36 percent to 51,458 through May 9, compared with the same
time last year, the Associated Press reported.
Carnival is angling to be the first to operate cruise service from the
U.S. to Cuba in half a century, since Washington imposed its embargo on
the communist-led nation. Though it awaits Cuban approval, Carnival
plans weeklong trips from Miami every other week starting in spring on a
710-passenger ship through its new brand called “fathom,” which
specializes in “social-impact travel” such as volunteering and cultural
Others are mulling U.S.-Cuba cruises soon, too.
Airline Brokers Co. of Miami received U.S. approval to operate a ferry
to Cuba next spring and recently expanded approval for cruises, said
company president Vivian Mannerud, a veteran in Cuba travel. She’s now
talking to cruise operators to offer “people-to-people” cruises, similar
to those planned by Carnival.
U.S. travel agents who book cruises have been fielding more calls this
year on Cuba.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest from people asking, ‘How can I get there
before it opens up?’ ” said Vicky Garcia, co-owner of Cruise Planners in
Coral Springs. Many clients say they want an authentic Cuba experience
before it becomes too Americanized or touristy, she said.
Cuba has been encouraging cruises, now taken mainly by Canadian,
European, and Latin American visitors. The number of cruise passengers
to the island rose from 6,770 in 2012 to 37,519 last year. And it jumped
to 62,183 through May this year, according to government data cited by AP.
Still unclear is when Cuba might approve U.S. cruises or ferries and
when the services might start. Among other things, the U.S. Coast Guard
still must inspect Cuban ports, operators say.
Ferries: At least seven companies have received U.S. approval since
April to operate the first ferry services from Florida to Cuba since the
1960s. The earliest a ferry service might start would be fall, pending
Cuban approvals and other logistics.
Charter flights: Longtime operators of charter flights to Cuba are
expanding to new cities to meet rising U.S. demand. Island Travel & Tour
this month began twice-a-week flights from Orlando to Cuba. And Cuba
Travel Services offers a weekly charter to New York starting this month
using a JetBlue Airways plane. That’s on top of charters already
operated from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Tampa.
Tour operators: Apple Vacations this month started selling five- and
seven-night “people-to-people” packages beginning in September to Cuba
Airlines: Commercial airlines can’t offer U.S.-Cuba service, but are
watching developments. Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines, based in
Miramar, will consider flights to Cuba “when the travel restrictions are
lifted, and air travel from the U.S. to Cuba can be done where we
control our own prices and schedules – and we can offer the absolute
lowest price,” said spokesman Paul Berry.
Hotels: The U.S. embargo bans investment in Cuba, but U.S. hotel
companies see rivals from overseas already operating there. Hotel giant
Hilton Worldwide is interested in Cuba when conditions allow, as is
Driftwood Hospitality Management of North Palm Beach.
“Given time, this is the next Cancun or Costa Rica,” said Carlos
Rodriguez, who spearheads Driftwood’s hotel-development division.
The big question is when open U.S. travel will be permitted to the
island of 11 million residents.
Bills are pending in Congress to lift the U.S. travel ban to Cuba, and
they’re gaining support.
“Open travel is probably the most likely to happen before anything
else,” Freyre, the lawyer said, “because it’s the simplest ask in Congress.
“The travel ban is the one that most sticks in the craw of American
people,” who value their freedom of movement and now can travel to
China, Vietnam, and elsewhere, he said. “I think the odds are relatively
good that in the next couple of years, the travel ban would be lifted.”
Source: Cruise lines, ferries, airlines gear up for Cuba –