Friendly Planet Travel, a global tour operator based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, has agreed to acquire New York-based Cuba specialist insightCuba. The transaction unites two tour companies that are licensed to offer programs to Cuba, although insightCuba operates exclusively to that country.
The acquisition comes on the heels of recent moves by the U.S. government to tighten restrictions on U.S. citizens’ ability to visit Cuba. Recently, the U.S. virtually eliminated the popular “people-to-people" category of approved travel to the country, and put an end to cruises to Havana from American ports.
Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet, emphasized that U.S. citizens can still travel to Cuba, despite the confusion caused by the policy changes. She added that by joining forces, the companies would be in a stronger position to get that message out to the public. “Travel to Cuba by Americans is legal, and there is demand for this incredible destination that cannot be undone,” she said. “We are bullish on the future.”
Among other things, clients may not be aware that they can still go to Cuba under a “support for the Cuban people” category, either with an organized tour or as individuals, as long as they stay in private bed and breakfasts instead of hotels, patronize home-based restaurants, and adhere to other rules. There are 12 categories of permitted travel, including family visits, academic pursuits, religious travel, humanitarian activities, and professional meetings.
In a statement, Tom Popper, who founded insightCuba nearly 20 years ago, acknowledged that the timing of his company’s sale “might turn some heads in the travel industry.” But he expressed confidence that the current chill on relations between the countries will reverse, saying that “pent-up demand for U.S. travel to Cuba remains high.”
That demand had surged following the resumption of diplomatic ties with Cuba in 2015, when the U.S. restored air service between the countries and a number of major airlines rushed in to start the first regularly scheduled flights in 50 years. Total visitor arrivals from all countries hit a record 4.8 million in 2018, according to Cuban Tourism Board statistics, and while that fell short of the country’s goal of 5.1 million annual visitors, it represents a 60% increase in arrivals over a five-year period. However, U.S. arrivals this year are expected to be down from recent years, according to the tourism board’s forecasts.
Under the terms of the sale, the two firms will continue to operate independently, and Popper will continue to lead insightCuba. Other terms of the sale are undisclosed.