Cuba travel boom projected in 2017

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Demand for Cuba travel is not slowing among American travelers despite the continued US government restrictions limiting approved travel to the island nation via 12 authorized categories, based on trend information being released today. According to Cuban officials, the combined total number of visitors from the United States was more than 614,000 in 2016 – a 34% increase over the previous year.

Corroborating those statistics, Travel Leaders Group has now released recent survey data in which nearly 22% of its leisure travel-focused travel agents stated they’ve already booked clients for Cuba travel this year and over 59% indicated clients have expressed an interest in travel to Cuba in 2017.


“While there is some uncertainty about the views of the current U.S. Administration on the future of Cuban relations, the momentum of public opinion among the American traveling public for unfettered access to Cuba continues. Based not only on our survey, but also on anecdotal feedback travelers are giving to their travel agents, more Americans are taking advantage of the avenues available to them to legally travel to this once forbidden island that is less than 100 miles from Key West, Florida,” stated Travel Leaders Group CEO Ninan Chacko.

“Our travel agent experts are continuing to assist clients who have a desire to visit Cuba this year by observing the existing law, and they are preparing travelers for culturally-immersive experiences that these travelers will remember for a lifetime.”

According to the Pew Research Center, “Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) approve of the decision last year to re-establish U.S. relations with Cuba, while nearly as many (73%) favor ending the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.” Americans can now take advantage of regularly scheduled air service to Cuba for the first time in 50 years and major cruise lines will offer sailings in 2017: Delta Air Lines opened the first U.S. airline ticket office in Havana last November; American Airlines will operate 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities this year; and United Airlines as well as five other U.S.-based carriers will have regularly scheduled flights to Cuba; plus Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have scheduled sailings to Cuba through November.

In Travel Leaders Group’s latest survey, 1,097 leisure-focused travel agents were asked, “Are clients expressing interest in traveling to Cuba in 2017?”

The responses included:

2017 2016
Yes, we’ve booked many clients already. 2.1% 3.8%
Yes, we’ve booked some clients already. 8.7% 8.6%
Yes, we’ve booked a few clients already. 11.0% 6.5%
Yes, but interest has not yet translated to bookings. 59.2% 57.8%
No 19.0% 23.3%

The Top 5 responses when asked, “For those clients interested in traveling to Cuba in 2017, are they interested in going …”

1 When they can do it as an independent trip rather than people-to-people exchange program
2 Right away before Cuba changes dramatically
3 As part of a cruise vacation
4 When the prices decrease
5 When they can enjoy it as a regular beach vacation

Cuba as a Top Destination:

• When all 1,689 Travel Leaders Group travel agents participating in the survey were asked to name the Top 5 international destination being booked for 2017, Havana, Cuba, ranked #49 (tied with Vancouver, Canada).

• Specifically asking luxury travel agents who are part of Travel Leaders Group’s Elite Division – travel agents within Protravel International and Tzell Travel Group – Cuba ranks 12th (after Spain and before European Baltic cruises).

“What is particularly intriguing and compelling is that Cuba is ranked very high among affluent travelers from the United States. Several luxury properties, including the 5-star Gran Hotel Kempinski Manzana La Habana, are scheduled to open this year,” stated Gail Grimmett, President of Protravel International and Tzell Travel Group, both renowned for their best-in-class luxury travel agent advisors. “What Cuba’s high ranking also tells us is that luxury travel to Cuba is more about the ‘exclusiveness of the experience.’

It is about the mystery of exploring a whole new destination and learning about a culture and destination that is widely unknown, even with many travelers who have covered the world.”

Conducted November 17-December 9, 2016, these trends are part of a comprehensive travel trends survey of 1,689 U.S.-based travel agents from Travel Leaders Group’s flagship Travel Leaders brand and All Aboard Travel, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network, and Tzell Travel Group.