While the evolution of existing travel products is commonplace, the occasion for travel advisors to sell their clients a new type of travel or a new destination doesn’t present itself nearly as often. That being said, the recent uptick in Cuba’s popularity provides a “new opportunity” that travel advisors should be embracing – and what better way to do so than with a cruise to this established destination with a new persona.
There are many reasons travelers are looking to flock to Cuba, and cruising makes the journey that much more enjoyable, not to mention easier from a logistical point of view. Travel Market Report spoke to two travel advisors who have booked dozens of clients on cruises to Cuba and were willing to impart their advice to fellow agents about their experiences. They shared their clients’ reasons for traveling there, why cruising is their preferred way to go, what they enjoyed most, and what your clients need to know before they go. Here’s what they had to say.
Why do your clients want to cruise to Cuba?
“First, because they feel safe on a cruise ship,” said Barbara Stolzer, a 30-year group travel and tour specialist and owner of Befitting Just Your Style. “Safety is on their minds and they don’t want to take a chance staying at a hotel that might cancel their reservation. They want to be in a contained situation with people helping them along the way, especially with the money exchange.
“Honestly, the second reason is for bragging rights. They want to be the first ones to tell their friends that they have been there!
“Third, is education. There are a group of people who are curious, who were either there before or heard enough about it that they want to go to learn about Cuba’s history.”
What do your clients enjoy most about visiting Cuba?
“Cuba is unspoiled by capitalism and, therefore, gives you a true example of what it’s like to walk the streets exactly as it was 30-50 years ago,” said Gayle Fortin, a senior travel advisor with Let’s Cruise and Tour. “Local stores selling art, jewelry and treasures are more interesting than just another duty-free store selling the same thing at every port. My clients also love touring in the classic cars, and the local tour guides make the tours informative, yet fun. For those clients whose ship stays overnight in Havana, they love the show at the Tropicana or to take in a local tour with dancing.”
What’s convenient about cruising to Cuba?
“Obtaining a visa is easy,” said Fortin. “The cruise line will issue them to passengers onboard, rather than having them purchase it prior to departing. The ‘People-to-People' visa is easy to complete and allows our guests to choose from a wide range of tours offered by the cruise line that meet the guidelines stipulated in the visa.”
Also, cruise lines will assist with the money exchange, getting passengers the most value for their Canadian or U.S. dollar. And most of all, they arrange all the logistics and provide all the details of going ashore so your clients’ questions are addressed before they even arrive.
Who do you promote these Cuba cruises to?
“Many of my clients are Baby Boomers looking for somewhere new, where they can immerse themselves in the local culture. I also have senior clients who have ‘been there, done that’ and are looking for an opportunity to travel back in time without a long European flight,” said Fortin.
“I am promoting Cuba cruises to my immediate clients, on Facebook, through my web page and in publications that are distributed to over 50 country clubs in the area,” said Stolzer. “I submit articles and pictures into these [country club] publications and, through those, we have been invited by the clubs to do presentations. We specialize in groups that include 25-50 people and we like to do things that are off-the-beaten-track.”
What kind of positive feedback have you received from clients about their Cuba cruise experiences?
“My clients love the friendliness of the Cuban people,” said Fortin. “They generally want to interact with our guests and share their love of their country with them.”
Stolzer added: “It’s a beautiful country that has wonderful architecture. My clients’ eyes were opened to another way of life and they enjoyed the food. Today, more people are open to education and to how other people in the world live. Everybody should go. It’s a nostalgic experience to go back to the good ‘ole times.”
What do your fellow agents need to know about booking their clients to Cuba?
“Cuba is not just another Caribbean port. It is raw, natural and full of culture, where you can interact with locals and feel safe,” said Fortin. “Travel advisors should take the time to cruise to Cuba themselves to learn firsthand how awesome this country is. When that is not possible, webinars are available to assist them to learn the ins and outs of what you can advise your clients to do and see.
“Travel advisors should impress upon their clients to ‘experience’ Cuba, no just visit Cuba. It will make all the difference in their clients’ experiences and likely they will be sending their clients back again!”
FROM THE SPONSOR: MSC Armonia will sail to Cuba year-round from Miami, Florida, starting December 2019. MSC Cruises offers six-night to eight-night western Caribbean cruises, with a two-day stay in Havana, Cuba. This unique itinerary gives our guests the ability to experience international cuisine and culture, and explore Cuba through the People-to-People program. The ship will have a unique appeal as well, with a Cuban theme throughout, including a mojito bar along with other flares throughout the ship to hone in on the Cuban culture. To learn more about our cruises to Cuba, please visit www.msccruises.com/cuba.