Cuba is gaining influence as a trending destination in the Caribbean as various industry players reshape their regional travel schedules.
The most recent example of cruise industry changes is the announcement by Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) that it decided drop its Grand Bahama stopover in favor of newly awarded Cuba approval for its 2000-passenger ship, Norwegian Sky, the largest cruise ship to ply Cuba’s waters to date. The new itinerary for Sky‘s four-day cruise now includes an overnight stop in Havana.
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“The timing for the Sky to drop Freeport, Grand Bahama, an island that is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Matthew, which struck the island in October 2016, is regrettable. We look forward to Norwegian returning to that island in 2018,” Bahamas Tourism said in a statement.
In a statement published in the Jamaican Observer, FNM Deputy Leader, K Peter Turnquest said, “There are constant reminders every week of more hotels and resorts closing, more workers being laid off, and now we have cruise lines leaving our beautiful waters for other countries.”
Last week, competitor Royal Caribbean announced plans to extend its Cuba offerings for the rest of 2017.
Royal Caribbean added 13 itineraries, or 42 sailings, through November, the largest schedule of any U.S. cruise line to date. According to the Miami Herald, the other cruise companies traveling to Cuba — Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ three cruise lines and Connecticut-based Pearl Seas Cruises — have announced voyages only through the spring.
For U.S. commercial airlines, adjustments are underway in the other direction.
Recently, American Airlines announced it would drop one of the two daily flights between Miami and the cities of Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero. The airline cited weak demand in reducing its schedule to 10 daily round-trip flights from 13, starting in mid-February.
And as of May 3, 2017, JetBlue will fly aircraft with fewer seats to Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey and Holguin. As a result, JetBlue will fly 300 fewer seats a day to its Cuban destinations.
In the hyper affluent travel segment, New York-based private jet startup Encore Jets has announced direct flights to Cuba from 24 U.S. cities and their respective airports, including Miami, Atlanta and New York.
The brokerage has partnered with the tour operator International Expeditions, recognized for its ongoing experience in tourism and government relations with Cuba. Together, the two travel companies have introduced private charter flights and customized experiences through Encore Jets’ Discover Cuba.