New airline flying from Grand Cayman to Havana

aerocaribeanhabanaHAVANA  1 May   (James Whittaker) A new airline company in Grand Cayman will make its first flight between George Town and Havana next month.
The company, Cubano Airtours, has leased a plane from Aero Caribbean – one of Cuba’s state-owned airlines – and will begin twice-weekly service between Havana and George Town on May 21. It aims to cater to an emerging market of Cuban tourists as well as targeting European travelers for “dual destination” trips to Cuba and Cayman. The airline will also seek to entice travelers from Cayman to bypass Miami and use Cuba as a gateway to the rest of the world. Chris Pope, owner of the company, said scheduled flights to other major Cuban cities, including Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey, would likely begin within the next few months. An expansion into cargo transportation is expected to follow before the end of the year. Mr. Pope said, “This is a long-term project for us.
I see this developing into something much bigger than a short-haul service to Havana. “There is a niche to bring European travelers here, there is a niche for residents to go to the rest of the world without having to go through Miami.” The company will initially use an ATR 72, a twin-engine turbo prop plane, with capacity for 72 passengers, though the limit will be set at 56. Flights went on sale on Tuesday for CI$285. He said partnerships with both Aero Caribbean and Havanatur, Cuba’s state-owned travel agency, which has 58 offices across the island and has launched a marketing campaign for the Cayman route in the country, would help make the business a success. “They see a niche for this and are very supportive of us adding flights from other cities fairly quickly. They believe they can fill the planes coming here, “People don’t really think of Cuba as an affluent island, but there are actually a lot of people that travel on a regular basis.” He said promotions, including offers with retailers to entice Cuban visitors here on shopping trips, were also a prospect.
The company is also developing “dual island” tours for travelers from Europe to make package trips that include flights between Cuba and Cayman. Mr. Pope said, “Realistically, the airport redevelopment is still a few years off and this is another way of attracting tourists from Europe who can’t fly directly to Grand Cayman.” The flights will also be marketed to locals as a “gateway to the world” that will allow them to link to international flights out of Cuba. It will also create another option for travelers who can’t go through the U.S. because of visa restrictions to fly elsewhere. Mr. Pope, who is in logistics at Dart Realty and has been involved in the hospitality industry for most of his career, admits he has no experience in the aviation industry. But he spent two years researching and setting up the business after being approached with the concept by his friend Alejandro Matienzo, an executive member of the Cuban Caymanian Association. He said the Cayman-Cuba route has proven to be popular and believes his partnership with Cuban travel companies will help his business tap a niche in the market.