Cuba turns its back on foreign travel agencies in Cuba concerning Cuban Americans

Ever so quietly the Cuban government began a campaign to lock foreign travel agencies registered inside and outside Cuba out of the lucrative Cuban American travel market. From early November agencies reported abruptly canceled services for clients arriving in Havana´s terminal 2. Initially the motive was that their receptive agents in Cuba, the likes of CubaTUR, Cubanacan or Ecotur could not provide services in terminal 2 anymore and thus all bookings were cancelled. Some enterprising agents quickly began confirming services for Cuban Americans in terminal 3 and advising their clients to simply take the short jaunt between the two airports by taxi or on foot. This scheme, apparently not considered by the Cuban authorities, was quickly scuttled when a later “orientation” was transmitted by Ministry of tourism officials that “no services sold by a foreign agency would be honored if the tourist holds a U.S passport”. A UK agency owner based in Old Havana since 1999 said “this is highly ironic; many of us who have been here for years trying to make ends meet assisting the Cuban tourism ministry in increasing numbers of individual tourism (more difficult to promote than the mass package deals sold from Canada and Europe) were waiting in anticipation of increased sales from the newly relaxed laws on Cuban American travel by the Obama administration and now we´ve been shut out”


It is thought that the bigger picture is that, in fact, the Cuban government wants the Cuban American market for themselves and, by shutting out travel companies from making bookings or pre-reserving services, Cuban Americans would be forced to pay in Cash (credit cards or wire transfers from US banks are banned from use in Cuba) in Cuba and thus directly into government coffers.


This is yet another sign that the Cuban government holds little if any regard for the companies and agencies that have assisted the island to slowly increase tourism numbers from the low 100´s of thousand in the early 90´s to today’s 2+ million and that, at any opportunity, they´ll restrict sales in sectors to shut out collaborators in favor of direct income.


This latest move by the government is being watched closely by Canada´s Transat, one of Canada´s largest operators, who package holidays for over 200,000 Canadian’s each year to Cuba. One person who works for the company but requested not to be named said: “we´re watching their moves on this issue, we´ve already seen that they are promoting direct hotel bookings and car rental services on their government webpage and, at the beginning of the year, some Cuban run hotels from Cubanacan were publicizing a direct reservation portal for their hotel rooms to our travelers. The issue of governments trying to set up and run their own travel businesses to shut out major operators is a rather Taboo subject in the industry and, is not taken lightly. Cuba needs to understand that the Caribbean is a big place”


It remains to be seen if tourism officials will reverse this action or whether it’s a taste of things to come. It is already known that in the late 90´s, the government toyed with the idea of setting up a proprietary reservation network but quickly cancelled the venture when international operators began to question them on the issue.


Could they now think it’s time?

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