Confusion About Travel Restrictions to Cuba Provides Opportunity for Agents

by Jessica Montevago
Confusion About Travel Restrictions to Cuba Provides Opportunity for Agents

Travel agents can step in and play a positive role of educating consumers and dispelling misconceptions. Photo: Shutterstock

Two years after the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba for Americans, fewer people are interested in taking a trip to the island nation than before and there is lingering confusion surrounding the current travel policy, according to a study by travel insurance provider, Allianz.

The 2018 survey – which polled 1,500 Americans from June 22 through 24 – found that 13 percent of Americans are interested in traveling to Cuba. That’s a 27 percent drop from 2017, when 40 percent said they would be interested in visiting the island nation. The poll also revealed that 82 percent of respondents report being unlikely to plan a trip to Cuba, a 6 percent increase from 2017.

AC Journeys President Jose Pineda said he has seen this trend first-hand. “I have been working in the Cuba travel industry for over 20 years, so this allows me to look at what is happening now with a hint of a historical perspective.”

Pineda believes a combination of misinformation from the media and unwillingness of travelers to do in-depth research have factored into waning interest in Cuba. In addition to conflicting headlines, the new policy rollout by the U.S. government in September 2017 even left universities and schools unsure if they could operate, with some canceling their entire Cuba programs, despite being fully authorized under the current Cuba travel regulations.

“If academic and professional organizations immediately canceled their programs, imagine what went through the minds of average Americans,” Pineda said.

Many Americans feel uncertain about the legality and logistics of traveling to Cuba. In the wake of revised restrictions for U.S. travelers, as well as the elimination of individual people-to-people cultural exchange trips, the survey found that many Americans are confused about the legal implications, with 55 percent of respondents admitting they do not understand the current travel restrictions.

"Despite airlines and cruise lines expanding their services to Cuba, there still seems to be confusion regarding the current travel restrictions to the country,” said Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz Global Assistance USA.

Following President Trump’s rollback of the Cuba détente in November, ten out of the 12 categories of authorized travel are still permitted for independent travelers, including family travel, professional research and meetings, religious activities, humanitarian projects and public performances.

Travel agents can educate consumers, dispel misconceptions
The volley back and forth – from strict travel rules to loosened ones under then President Obama, to its reversal back – has let to uncertainty among travelers, but it is also where travel agents can shine.

“The new regulations and what they are not saying in the written language is what is confusing consumers. How people can travel to Cuba, how they can obtain what they need in order to do so, what should and could they do. They still aren't sure,” Tammy Estes, Certified Accessible Travel Advocate (CATA) of Estes Consultant of Travel, in Augusta, Maine, told Travel Market Report. “Travel to Cuba is not impossible, and we need to tap into the industry and help guide our consumers through the confusion!”

While this all may seem overwhelming to a consumer, for agents like Estes, who know how to navigate the ins and outs of travel requirements: “Its minor in nature, if you specialize. The new rules only want visitors to have interactive and positive and meaningful interactions with the people of Cuba.” She added that, like any trip, consumers using an advisor will obtain valuable insights, ensuring they can be confident they have the proper forms and meet any other requirements.

Pineda also believes the strength of travel agents is in educating consumers and dispelling misconceptions. During a four-day fam to Cuba in November, he will provide travel agents with the tools they need to educate themselves about the particulars of Cuba travel and its products, with a workshop about the legalities of organizing travel to Cuba.

Having arranged trips to the island for two decades, Pineda is optimistic: “I honestly believe that travel agents can help overcome the challenges of travel to Cuba.”

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