By Peggy Goldman
Cuba Journal Contributor
For Americans wishing to finally experience Cuba’s rich Afro-European culture after fifty years of embargo and enmity, news that commercial air service is on the horizon (pun, fully intended) is being met with celebration.
And it should.
For consumers, commercial air service means increased competition, lower fares and more convenient scheduling.
For American tour operators who until now have had to rely upon Cuban-run charters to bring visitors to the country, the news is a mixed blessing which is being met with cautious optimism.
For visitors, scheduled commercial air service is a no brainer.
It means more choice, more convenience and a better price.
Imagine, instead of having to purchase two roundtrip tickets – one from their home city to Miami, where nearly all the charters originate – travelers from all over the United States will now be able to purchase a single through fare from wherever they are to Cuba. It’s simply better and for that we’re delighted, but we’re a bit wary too.
In addition to the obvious challenges of having to meet guests arriving on different flights at different times, pent-up demand for the destination coupled with ease of air service, will put increased pressure on operators to source one of Cuba’s most precious assets right now: hotel rooms.
Once the spigot is opened, it will be a challenge to meet demand.
I also believe that for some groups, the charters will remain necessary, since it will be unlikely that tour operators will be permitted to reserve large blocks of seats.
We’ll likely need to offer a combination of charter and scheduled service, but are confident that anything can be managed.
I expect that service won’t begin until fall, but you never know.
Landing rights must be approved on the Cuban side and there is sensitivity to protect Canadian and European carriers and so great care will be taken, still – money talks.
Peggy Goldman is the founder and president of global tour operator, Friendly Planet Travel, which makes cultural travel possible for more people through small group and customizable journeys to Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East and was one of the first to offer people-to-people travel to Cuba. For more information visit friendlyplanet.com.