WANT TO VISIT CUBA? GO WHILE YOU STILL CAN
Some worry whether Donald Trump will preserve President Obama's historic
re-opening of Cuba.
BY CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT ON 1/14/17 AT 4:10 PM
It seems like every travel organization in the country is out with its
"must visit" list for 2017. What do they say? They're literally all over
the map, but one place gets repeated mentions: Cuba.
The U.S. Tour Operators Association singled out the island nation as the
hottest destination of 2017, while the website for the travel guidebook
Frommer's listed Cuba as one of the best places to go this year. Based
on search data, the airfare website Skyscanner.com named Havana the top
destination of the year. Virtuoso, the travel agency consortium,
includes Havana on its list of "emerging" destinations.
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Readers also told me that the island nation was at the top of their list
"I would love to go to Cuba before it gets ruined by capitalism," wrote
Alicia Nieva-Woodgate, a Denver consultant.
Laurie Fullerton, an author who lives in Marblehead, Mass., feels the
same way. "Unfortunately," she wrote, "the cruise ships are on their way."
Their fears may be well-founded. Anyone who visited Eastern Europe just
after the fall of the Iron Curtain knows how quickly a destination can
go from affordable and interesting to expensive and overcommercialized.
For a year or two, places like Prague or Warsaw were affordable. And
then they were discovered by American tourists, and — poof! — there go
the authenticity and the bargains.
"I hate these sorts of pieces where the media has to arbitrarily
pronounce something is hot," says Doug Lansky, a longtime advocate for
sustainable tourism. "Then people flock there before the place can brace
for crowds or create a strategic plan, it gets overcrowded and
overdeveloped, then people are directed to the next hot spot, leaving
the destination discarded like a nightclub that's no longer trendy."
Lansky cites the example of Jericoacoara, a remote Brazilian fishing
village that, after a guidebook declared it the world's most beautiful
beach, became overrun by tourists.
Other travelers have more immediate concerns.
Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommers.com, notes that Cuba
made her site's list as a last-minute addition. "That was a
'visit-it-while-you-still-can' pick," she said.
Indeed, in the weeks since the election, some travel suppliers have cut
back their Cuba itineraries, anticipating a slump in demand, if not a
complete stop in tourism from the United States. For example, in
December, American Airlines announced that it would cut nearly a quarter
of its flights to Cuba for early 2017, citing weak demand.
The carrier reportedly plans to reduce daily round-trip flights between
the United States and Cuba from 13 to 10, starting in the middle of
February. [Americans can plan 'people-to-people' trips to Cuba, but what
does that mean?]
Mike Weingart, president of Air Land Sea Consultants, a Houston travel
agency, says that while he received "huge requests" for Cuba last year,
the future is uncertain. "Hopefully, the Trump administration will
continue in the good efforts made by the Obama administration," he says.
But until it does, he expects to see more queries than actual bookings.
The American Society of Travel Agents is pushing to keep Cuba open for
tourism, and with good reason. In a poll conducted late last year, 84
percent of its agents reported an uptick in Cuba interest by their
clients in 2016. And 78 percent are predicting even more interest in the
destination this year.
Travel agents don't want to give up the gains made during the past few
There may be an opportunity to open the doors to Cuba permanently.
Earlier this month, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017 was
introduced in Congress by Reps. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) and Jim McGovern
(D-Mass.). The bill would repeal restrictions to Cuba.
The country's presence on many of this year's must-visit lists is no
fluke to someone like Anthony Rubenstein, the co-owner of the
Philadelphia-based Havana VIP Tours. Although he's expecting 2017 to be
his best year yet, he's strongly recommending trip-cancellation
insurance for any trip booked after Jan. 20.
"No one knows what Trump will do," Rubenstein says. "But I'm optimistic.
After all, he was interested in building a hotel and golf course there,
and his longtime associates from Starwood, Sheraton and American
Airlines are not going to accept him interfering with their businesses."
Writer and photographer Christopher Baker, who leads motorcycle tours of
"Trump is the big unknown," he says. "He could throw this into reverse.
Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott's latest book is How To Be The
World's Smartest Traveler (National Geographic). You can get real-time
answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum, or
by emailing him at email@example.com.
Source: Want to Visit Cuba? Go While You Still Can -