By Gay Nagle Myers
Cuba. It’s the one-ton gorilla on the beach,
and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism As-
sociation (CHTA) confronted it head-on in
a position paper released last week, titled
“Cuba: The Great Disruption for the Good
of the Caribbean.”
Frank Comito, the group’s CEO, predict-
ed that the opening of travel to Cuba for
U.S. citizens “will be the biggest and most
disruptive pebble dropped into the Carib-
bean pool in 50 years.”
The association expects that those is-
lands and countries nearest Cuba will feel
the greatest ripple effects and warns that
they should start now to plan ways to miti-
gate the impact.
Consequences for other Caribbean destinations farther from Cuba might be more
muted, “but in the end the total Caribbean
travel landscape will be changed forever,”
the CHTA warned.
Cuba’s popularity and emergence as a
sought-after destination, now that its relations with the U.S. are warming, has the
association on edge due to the potentially
significant loss of visitors, investors and
revenue that could divert to Cuba from
other tourism-dependent island nations
whose fragile budgets will be hard hit if
they do not take action.
Acknowledging that the long-standing
Caribbean malaise of “business as usual”
will no longer work, the CHTA is calling
for the creation of a Caribbean Basin Tourism Initiative to help boost trade, travel
and investment across the region with help
from the U.S. government.
It is modeled on the Caribbean Basin
Initiative, a U.S.-led program in the 1980s
that sought to boost trade in the Caribbean
and Central America.
There have been similar calls to action
in the past, both on the part of the CHTA
and the Caribbean Tourism Organization,
CHTA’s counterpart in tourism’s public
sector, which together partnered on the
Caribbean Tourism Development Corp.
several years ago to collaborate on regional
strategies to develop and promote tourism.
group’s intentions, there still
remains no cohesive regional
in place to drive
tourism to the
region in a
strongly competitive marketplace where the Caribbean
increasingly faces tough competition globally.
The CHTA has good reason for concern.
While other islands have been slow to move
from agricultural-based economies or have
relied primarily on the sun-sand-sea formula to lure first-time and return visitors,
Cuba had few other recourses but tourism
after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991
and the end of sugar subsidies.
With the loss of revenue from sugar,
Cuba forged ahead, making the development of tourism a high priority of the government and investing at least $3 billion in
the industry in the early years of the post-Soviet era.
Comito admitted that the Caribbean
could use a good shaking up, and Cuba
could be just the catalyst to do that.
Although it might be the new kid on the
block, and even without the decades-old
embargo being lifted, Cuba’s visitor arrivals
are the stuff of dreams for other Caribbean
While the Dominican Republic led the
pack in 2014 with 5.1 million stopover visitors, Cuba ran second with 3 million, with
the bulk arriving from Canada, Europe and
“Those Caribbean countries whose focus has been on
the U.S. as their
market and who
have not felt any
Cuba will be surprised at how sophisticated and
effective the Cuban marketing machine has become,” Comito said.
Cuba expects tourism to deliver nearly
$6 billion in visitor spending in the not-too-distant future, according to the CHTA,
which surveyed tourism planners and government leaders across the region about
just how much of that will come at the expense of other islands.
Kurt Weinsheimer, vice president of
marketing and business development for
Sojern, a travel marketing service with
more than 200 million traveler profiles,
confirmed that interest in Cuba is growing
globally, not just in the U.S.
“Our data show that searches around
the world increased by at least a third in
the aftermath of the first White House an-
nouncement on Dec. 17,” Weinsheimer
said. “On Dec. 18, searches from Canada
were up 40%, while major European coun-
tries’ searches were up 20% to 30% day-on-
day, and the trend continued into this year.”
The CHTA’s essential conclusion that in
the absence of independent growth of travel
and tourism to the Caribbean basin, exist-
ing entities will lose some share to Cuba
was supported by Parag Vohr, general man-
ager of Sojern’s hotel division, who said that
some of that shift was already taking place.
“Without the embargo being lifted yet,
we already saw Cuba jump on the top 20
Caribbean destinations’ list by four places,
from 19 to 15, since December, leaving Cu-
racao, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada and the
British Virgin Islands behind,” he said.
Richard Black, Sojern’s senior sales director for tourism, said that Cuba’s win could
come at the expense of other islands in the
Moreover, he said, “That may well extend
beyond the Caribbean. There is a surge of
people who want to see destinations like
Havana while it still sits in a time capsule.
There is a definite degree of interest from
travelers who may not have been planning
to go to the Caribbean at all, but it’s also
hard to say what is curiosity vs. true travel
Throughout its paper, the CHTA urges
a new era of cooperation between private
and public sectors.
Emil Lee, the association’s president,
pointed out that while U.S. tour operators,
airlines and cruise executives are eyeing
the tourism potential of Cuba, “conflicted
stakeholders throughout the wider Caribbean have legitimate concerns [about]
whether there will be a level playing field
and whether the rest of the region will
grow tourism arrivals or lose tourism interests as visitors divert to Cuba.”
By Michelle Baran
In an effort to get in on the frenzied demand for travel to Cuba, Apple Vacations is
reaching beyond its “fly and flop” comfort
zone to offer group tours to the island destination, with the hopes that shorter itineraries and competitive pricing will make
its product resonate with Apple customers.
“This is not a typical Apple beach vaca-
tion,” said Apple Vacations President Tim
Mullen. “This is more of a traditional tour
of Cuba versus a flop-and-drop beach va-
cation on a FIT package. People will have
functions, locations to go to, people to see,
versus just fly and flop, get
yourself on a beach. There
will not be much, if any,
Despite being a departure
from existing Apple prod-
ucts, Mullen said that the temptation to
enter Cuba was too great for Apple to resist.
“The American demand for Cuba has
been at an all-time high,” he said, adding
that Apple Vacations is “one of the first
mainstream tour operators to bring por-
table, short vacation packages to Cuba. The
other tour operators are offering much lon-
ger stays, which are really atypical of what a
standard … American vacation is, which is
typically seven nights.”
Mullen said that competitors’ Cuba pro-
grams are often 10 or 14 nights or longer.
Beginning July 9, Apple Vacations will
begin offering five- and seven-night tours
to Cuba under the U.S. Department of
Treasury’s people-to-people program for
travel to Cuba.
Unlike Apple’s standard FIT vacation
packages, the Cuba itineraries will be guided group tours limited to 30 passengers
each. They will be operated by U.S.-based
Cuba Travel Services, a Cuba-licensed operator that charters flights from Miami
to Cuba with Sun Country
Airlines and American Airlines. The flights will be on
180-passenger Boeing 737-
800 aircraft, so there will be
space for up to six groups on
each departure date.
The first of Apple’s two new Cuba offer-
ings is the five-night Havana Getaway itin-
erary, consisting of four nights in Havana
and a daytrip to the Cuban countryside,
including sightseeing tours, musical perfor-
mances, a cigar-rolling demonstration and
Cuban meals. The Havana Getaway will be
priced from $2,233 per person, based on
double occupancy, with departure dates on
Sept. 5 and Oct. 17.
There will also be a seven-night Colors
of Cuba program, which in addition to the
offerings on the Havana Getaway tour will
include two nights in the colonial town of
Trinidad, a Unesco World Heritage Site in
the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus. The Colors of Cuba itinerary is priced
from $2,733 per person, based on double
occupancy, with departure dates on Sept.
11, Sept. 25 and Oct. 8.
Mullen said that Apple would add additional capacity based on demand and availability. Pricing includes Cuban health insurance, charter flights departing from Miami
(connecting flights from other U.S. cities are
available through Apple), Cuban tourist visa
processing, U.S. taxes and fees. A Cuban departure tax of $25 per passenger will be collected upon check-in at the airport in Miami.
“We simply, as Apple Vacations, are get-
ting the customers to Miami for a briefing
the night before they depart on the charters
to Cuba,” Mullen said. “Once they get to
Miami, they’re essentially in the hands of
Cuba Travel Services to ensure a seamless
and enjoyable tour.”
He said that Cuba Travel Services has
been in operation since 1999.
Mullen said the initial reaction from
agents to Apple’s entering the Cuba market
via a tour product has been positive.
“We’ve done the research with our travel
agent customers knowing that with the current travel restrictions that [going into Cuba
would be] group-tour specific,” Mullen said.
“They said that’s not an issue, and that’s what
their customers want, so we’re responding to
the demand of our travel agents.”
Travel to Cuba through Apple Vacations
must be booked a minimum of 40 days in
advance of the departure date to give the
company time to process the required doc-
umentation. Additional information can be
found at AppleVacations.com/Cuba.
CHTA stresses collaboration in facing challenge from Cuba
Apple’s new group tours offer cultural glimpses of Cuba
‘Travel to Cuba will be the
biggest pebble dropped
into the Caribbean pool
in 50 years.’
— Frank Comito
President Tim Mullen is
In the Hot Seat, P. 4
Apple Vacation’ seven-night Colors of Cuba program
includes two nights in the colonial town of Trinidad.