Cuba travel is still hot for Americans, new study says
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Despite some U.S. airlines' decisions to scale back service to Cuba or
abandon their Cuba routes, Americans' interest in visiting the island is
still strong and there's plenty of potential for growth, according to a
new travel study.
An analysis by The Boston Consulting Group released Wednesday estimates
that even with current U.S. travel restrictions in place, as many as 2
million U.S. travelers could visit the island annually by 2025.
Last year, visits by Cuban Americans and other U.S. travelers totaled
614,433 — a 34 percent increase.
The biggest restraint on growth is "on the Cuban side in terms of supply
[of hotel rooms] and tourism infrastructure," said Marguerite
Fitzgerald, author of the study and managing partner of the consulting
firm's Miami office.
Cuba already is struggling to handle its current level of visitors, the
Even though U.S. travelers aren't supposed to visit Cuba to merely bake
on the beach and are required to engage in purposeful travel that falls
into 12 categories such as family visits, humanitarian trips and
people-to-people tours, Fitzgerald said these U.S. restrictions haven't
been much of a factor in restraining growth.
However, that could change.
"The biggest unknown is whether U.S. travel policies change [under the
Trump administration] and become more restrictive," she said.
Nevertheless, BCG said demand among U.S. travelers is strong and is
expected to grow over the next three years.
In late 2015 and then again in late 2016, the consulting firm surveyed
500 travelers who had been to Cuba or were considering a trip. Thirty
percent expressed interest in visiting Cuba and 80 percent of those said
they wanted to make a trip within the next three years.
A recent internet survey by Allianz Global Assistance USA, a travel
insurance provider, showed 40 percent of the 1,514 people who responded
said they would be interested in visiting Cuba. The firm said that was 2
percent fewer than in its 2016 survey.
When the U.S. Department of Transportation announced last year that it
was opening up regularly scheduled commercial airline service to Cuba
for the first time in more than five decades, U.S. airlines rushed to
apply for 110 daily slots from the U.S. to Cuba.
But now, both American Airlines and JetBlue have announced cutbacks in
the frequency of their flights to cities outside Havana, and some other
U.S. airlines are abandoning the Cuban market altogether. Silver Airways
stopped all its Cuba flights on April 22; Spirit will fly its last Fort
Lauderdale-Havana flight on May 31, and Frontier will stop its
Miami-Havana route in June.
Some are reading those flight cancellations as an indication that Cuba
travel is a bust for American travelers.
"That's misleading. It's a question of oversupply," said Frank Comito,
chief executive of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association.
Airlines were applying for the flight frequencies as if there were no
restrictions on Cuba travel and normal business traffic between the U.S.
and the Cuba existed. But Havana is still a hot ticket, according to the
report. Delta, American Airlines, Southwest and JetBlue all promptly
applied to be granted the abandoned Havana routes.
"The reality is that U.S. travel to Cuba is in its nascent stages, and
all the players are still learning how to make it work," said The Boston
Consulting Group study. "Airlines, hotels and cruise lines will need to
develop their understanding of demand and how to stimulate it, as well
as how to operate in a centrally controlled country that is suffering
from years of underinvestment."
Cuba faces a host of challenges as it seeks to attract more visitors:
"The country's main international airport, in Havana, is bursting at the
seams, and because there is an insufficient supply of accommodations,
room rates have climbed to above the Caribbean average."
But BCG research suggests that "there is strong and growing interest [in
Cuba travel] among U.S. travelers." The consulting firm projects
compound annual growth rates of 20-50 percent in the number of U.S.
visitors to Cuba through 2020.
During Cuba's International Tourism Fair last week, Tourism Minister
Manuel Marrero said that Cuba had already received 2 million
international visitors during the first four months of the year, putting
it on track to easily surpass last year's record of 4 million, second
best in the Caribbean after the Dominican Republic.
The BCG research showed that U.S. demand is highly concentrated in
Havana with 80 percent of survey respondents saying the capital city was
their first-choice destination. Only 10 percent of respondents said they
were interested in cities such as Camagüey, Holguín, and Matanzas.
Airlines have cut back on service to all three cities.
"Airlines could address this imbalance in demand with marketing
campaigns aimed at educating U.S. travelers about Cuba's lesser known
cities," Boston Consulting suggested.
"American travelers have very little awareness of areas outside Havana,"
said Fitzgerald, "but people are starting to explore."
Cuba also has ambitious plans to develop destinations beyond Havana.
During the tourism fair, the Cuban press reported that the government
announced the creation of the Punta Colorada joint venture that will
develop golf courses and tourist accommodations in western Cuba. It also
announced a German-Cuban joint venture to build a resort complex in
Punta Gorda, Camagüey, that will include a marina with 300 slips and a
The Cuban government also signed a letter of intent with China's Yantai
Golden Mountain for a real estate/golf course development in Loma Linda,
Guardalavaca, according to the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
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Source: Study estimates there could be 2 million US travelers to Cuba |
Miami Herald -