The Cuban Travel Industry continues to quickly evolve, usually in a “2 steps forward, 1-step back” mode. The year 2017 brought many changes. The complicated, time-consuming, expensive charter flights are just about gone. They have mostly been replaced by new, less expensive commercial flights on various airlines. As an example, in November 2016, our group flew round-trip from Miami 200 miles to Havana for about $500 per person. Today the cost of the same trip starts at about $150. Two years ago it cost over $1000 to fly on a charter from LAX to Havana. I just returned from our April expedition, flying non-stop on Alaska Airlines from LAX to Havana for $360 round-trip.
This has been a fascinating process to watch. Beginning in the fall last year, major airlines announced numerous nonstop flights from several U.S. cities to Havana, as well as to airports in cities that very few Americans have ever heard of, such as Cienfuegos, Holguin, and Camaguey. Everybody I know in the Cuba Travel Industry thought this was a really goofy idea. This “plan” was especially costly, because the airlines–American, Alaskan, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and others–have never advertised these flights. To make matters worse, customer service personnel were (and are) consistently uninformed about Cuba travel. The airline websites were user-unfriendly to travelers trying to research flights. They still are today. For example, there is no obvious way to find out information from Alaska Airlines’ website. You have to go to a search bar and enter “Cuba.” Southwest is even more obscure. If you click on “What’s New?” you won’t find any information about Cuba. You have to click-through “International Travel”, then click on the Cuba Information link. This takes you to the needlessly confusing verbiage about Specific and General Licenses approved by OFAC–the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the US Department of the Treasury. There are links to 30+ pages of bureaucratic files filled with irrelevant and outdated information. At this point, most people–including travel agents–simply give up.
Not surprisingly, airlines did not notice a massive increase in demand to fill all these non-advertised packages and flights to mysterious, unknown cities. So they began right-sizing–such as American decreasing the number of flights from Miami to Havana from 4 to 3 daily. JetBlue began using smaller-capacity aircraft. Spirit and Frontier dropped out of the market altogether. This was followed by many articles in the mainstream media with headlines such as “Americans have stopped going to Cuba” and “Cuba travel trend is over!”
In fact, the number of Americans traveling to Cuba has been steadily increasing, up 60-70% over the same period last year. The best hotels have been full all winter, but hundreds more BnB Vacation homes have become available. Many are luxurious rehabbed mansions. You can reserve and pay for many of them through AirBnB.com.
Could it be that CEO’s of our major airlines simply made serious and costly mistakes that were very predictable? It’s possible, but there must be something else going on. I just don’t know what. Any ideas, readers?