Tour operators ditch Cuba as island struggles to cope with flood of US visitors
HAVANA, Dec. 3th Interest in travel to Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented surge – but at least four British operators have stopped taking bookings to the country as its infrastructure struggles to cope with demand.
Toucan Travel, Scott Dunn, KE Adventure and Geodyssey have all confirmed they have put their Cuban breaks on hold, despite acute interest in the destination as it moves into the post-Castro era.
“There’s simply not the hotel capacity,” said Matt Gannan, the CEO of Toucan Travel, whose company has run holidays to Cuba for 15 years.
“We were getting too many complaints and it was damaging the reputation of the company.”
Scott Dunn also said the quality of service, experience and accommodation had “just not been up to the right standard” for its guests.
Geodyssey, another Latin America and Caribbean specialist, stopped taking any further Cuba bookings earlier this month. John Thirtle, a director at the company, believes it will be difficult for the communist state to cope as the trickle of visitors from the USA turns into a flood.
“Many travel companies have seen a steep rise in last-minute issues as US travel agents gazump reservations made many months in advance,” he said.
“Everything has been affected: hotel rooms, car rentals, local guides and so on. 2017 could be much worse.”
Other operators, including Audley, Cox & Kings, Exodus, Explore, Journey Latin America, Kuoni and Saga, are continuing to run tours to the country. Explore’s product manager for the Americas, Carmel Hendry, said potential visitors should be flexible, and “expect the unexpected”, adding that Cuba would not offer a European five-star of accommodation.
“However, for those truly interested in Cuba and experiencing a country in the throes of change, it is still a wonderful destination to visit – it just requires an open mind,” she told Telegraph Travel.
Journey Latin America’s Sarah Bradley said it is important to set expectations of a visit to the island at the right level.
“We think it’s a fascinating place but it’s perhaps not for everyone,” she said.
“It’s always been a pretty idiosyncratic destination – part of its charm as they say – [but] the nature of the challenges has changed over time.”
She advised anyone looking to visit Cuba to book as far as a year in advance: “If people want to travel and have left it a little late, then flexibility is key.”
In the week of Fidel Castro’s funeral, several major American airlines coincidentally launched their first scheduled flights, including Jet Blue (JFK to Havana), American Airlines (Miami to Havana). More than 100 direct daily flights from the US to Cuba are scheduled by the end of the year.
Meanwhile the President-elect Donald Trump has promised to close the American embassy in Havana and review US relations with Cuba. So far he has not clarified if previous travel sanctions would be reintroduced.
If the island’s popularity continues on the same trajectory, many tour operators believe the logistical issues will intensify despite the Cuban authorities’ pledge to increase hotel capacity.
“It’s going to take years for Cuba’s infrastructure to catch up,” Matt Gannan said.