Since the announcement last month that the Trump administration “expects to issue new regulatory amendments” regarding travel to Cuba, travel advisors have been left with little guidance on what to tell customers. But as always, they are coming up with solutions of their own on how to address uncertain travel plans in an uncertain world.
Indeed, many travel agents told Travel Market Report their clients have little interest in Cuba. But others report that many customers — and especially groups — have been signing up to see the island.
As always in times of concern, some suggested, the key is to stay in touch and share as much information as possible.
With “numerous Cuba-bound clients,” for example, Donna Carlin, owner of Stepping Out Travel Services, in Brick, New Jersey, put together a checklist for of the current stipulations that she culled from the FAQs on the MSC Cruises website. Before taking a deposit from customers, she has them review and sign off on the list, “to cover both my agents and the clients.”
“Do we have much interest in Cuba? Yes! Are we selling it? Yes!” she said. “As a travel professional, I need to keep my clients informed, and having them read and sign off on the requirements gives me proof that they have read the materials.”
“We’re just starting to book 2020 and nothing has been canceled,” said Brian Doughty, president of TRIPS in North Hollywood. “I have a meeting with a travel club on Friday night and I’m sure the first question will be, ‘What if they close Cuba?’ And my answer will be, ‘Then we won’t go and you’ll get your money back.’”
Doughty just escorted 70 customers to Cuba on Azamara and “they loved it. It’s not just about the Bay of Pigs; they loved all the stages, from Prohibition to the mob. It’s safe and it’s fascinating,” he said.
Dillon Guyer, of Guyer International, meanwhile, is reaching out to his Cuba-bound clients, even though he has little information to offer. “We are monitoring everything with patience and have sent out bulk emails with information,” he said. “It helps the stigma against not hearing it from me.”
He did release a client’s non-refundable deposit in the interest of maintaining a good relationship, and is “holding off all new Cuba bookings until further notice.”
Most travel professionals are feeling a little stressed by the lack of information. But rather than seeing cancellations, most report customers are still asking to go.
With several clients booked on cruises to Cuba, Lainey Melnick, of Lainey Melnick & Associates - Dream Vacations, said she feels “somewhat in limbo now waiting for clarification from the cruise lines and the government.” Many of her clients have “a deep desire to witness and celebrate a culture that has been off limits to us for so long. Americans want to help the people of Cuba while making sure to limit support that ends up in the hands of their government. Travel is the perfect way to expose the failings of other governments and build understanding and tolerance of different cultures. Hopefully, we will have clarification soon so we'll all know how we can move forward positively to help both Cuban citizens and our clients.”
Judi Taylor Faas of Journey to Paradise Travel & Tours, meanwhile, just started putting together a group for February when the announcement was made — and is “still receiving interest. I also think that some who were interested early are holding off to see what happens. They understand any itinerary changes are not in my control and the cruise line will adjust.”
At Dawn Crowe Travel, Crowe has “a few clients booked for Cuba, including a group for May 2020. I'm sharing what little I know with them and we're all in a ‘wait and see’ mode — but no cancellations,” she said.
Adriana Almeida Matos, Groups Expert at Cruise Planners, is finding the ban is having just the opposite effect from what the administration probably had in mind. “The more they mention they will make it difficult to go to Cuba,” she said, “the more it sells!”
And Camille Sperrazza, of The World Awaits Travel, said she has had “no cancellations. In fact, I have people wanting to book.”
ASTA, meanwhile, is “watching closely and will issue updated member guidance if and when the rules are formalized,” said Communications Director Erika Richter.