Americans will soon have new and improved ways to visit Cuba – by cruise ship, luxury hotels, and direct air services. During President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba – the first American President to visit since Calvin Coolidge (who came by warship), several travel companies announced plans to expand their ties to Cuba in the wake of eased regulatory changes on exports and travel to Cuba:
Airline expansion: The United States and Cuba in December 2015 reached an arrangement to re-establish regular, direct flights between the United States and Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years. U.S. carriers have applied to the Department of Transportation for an allocation of the new opportunities to provide scheduled flights, which will begin later this year. Thirteen U.S. carriers have applied to provide direct flights to Havana from 20 U.S. gateway cities, as well as one-stop flights from three additional U.S. cities. In addition, seven U.S. carriers have applied to provide scheduled flights to the other nine international airports in Cuba from five U.S. gateway cities. For more information about authorized travel to Cuba, including the 12 categories of travel permitted by statute, visit the website of the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Airbnb: Through the new regulatory framework, Airbnb set up service for authorized U.S. travelers to stay in the homes of private Cuban hostel owners – in a year, listings have grown from 1,000 to well over 4,000. Airbnb’s operation empowers Cuban private homeowners and provides an opportunity for authorized US travelers to directly connect with the Cuban people.
Carnival: Carnival will soon sign a deal that will allow its cruise ships to dock in Cuban ports and disembark authorized travelers. Carnival has begun selling tickets to authorized travelers for a May 1, 2016 cruise that will stop in Havana, Santiago, and Cienfuegos. The announcement will be made in the next two weeks.
Marriott: Marriott is seeking to establish a brand presence in the Cuban hospitality sector, while providing supportive career training for Cuban nationals and opportunities for emerging Cuban entrepreneurs to cater to hotel supply needs.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Ltd.: Norwegian Cruise Lines is working closely with the Cuban government to allow passengers to disembark at Cuban ports for educational and cultural excursions; under the new regulations, Norwegian plans to directly employ Cuban workers to assist with the excursions once approved by the Cuban government.
Starwood: Starwood Hotels & Resorts has signed two deals to operate luxury hotels in Havana and a third hotel catering to business travelers. These deals will provide comprehensive hospitality training to Cuban employees working in the hotels.
Royal Caribbean: Royal Caribbean expects to receive official approval from the Cuban government to dock ships in Cuban ports; under the new regulatory framework, Royal Caribbean may allow authorized passengers to disembark and visit Cuba.
Weber Shandwick: Weber Shandwick is pursuing opening operations on-the-ground in Cuba and will proceed with discussions with the Cuban government about how to secure the permissions necessary to be among the first marketing services and global public relations firms to establish an office in Havana.
Wheels Up: Wheels Up, a private aviation company, will operate a private aviation service between the United States and Cuba for authorized travelers.