Traveling to Cuba is not as simple as a jaunt to the Bahamas or Jamaica, despite the changes that have taken place since December 2014 when the U.S. and Cuba agreed to normalize relations.
"The changes are great, but there is room for improvement," said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba, which as been operating people-to-people tours to Cuba since 2000. "Cuba offers so many opportunities, both for travelers and travel agents, but the regulations still are complicated, and travel agents are confused, scared and apprehensive of selling a destination product they don't know."
To that end, Insight Cuba is offering several new tools to help agents navigate the complicated regulations regarding travel to Cuba. The first of a series of online CubaChats took place earlier this month.
Popper said that about 30 agents signed on for the first CubaChat; it was a very dynamic give-and-take, question-and-answer session."
The next CubaChats is set for Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Agents can access the videoconference; access to future chat sessions will be via online registration, Popper said.
Another sales tool to aid agents will be an online tutorial called How to Sell Cuba, which will launch in January.
Insight Cuba also has created a business development department, "to help cut through the confusion and answer agents' queries regarding services for their clients," Popper said.
Regarding the apprehension surrounding president-elect Trump's future policies toward Cuba, Popper said he didn't feel that Trump would undo the gains made by the Obama administration to advance trade and ease travel restrictions.
"Much has been accomplished since Dec. 17, 2014," Popper said; he cited Starwood's management plans in Cuba, the launch of commercial flights, the unprecedented increase in U.S. visitor numbers, the numbers of U.S. businesses engaged in negotiations with Cuba and support in the Cuban-American community for greater engagement, among others.
"While historically an incoming Republican presidency would give pause for concern, the gains would indicate that any significant change is unlikely," Popper said.
Insight Cuba now offers six signature tours and four cruise tours around Cuba in addition to a Havana Marathon program Nov. 20, which has drawn 5,000 participants, up from 2,500 in 2015. It has 250 total tour departures this year across all its land programs and cruises, up from 100 last year.
A recent tour addition is a four-day program that includes time in Havana and in Varadero, the beach destination east of Havana. "Clients will have options for free time as well as activities built in that satisfy the required people-to-people components," Popper said. "More and more travelers are asking for this."
The company hopes to launch an FIT program to Havana in December for groups of six or less. "We've been working on this a year," Popper said. "It will include the components that comply with the people-to-people regulations but also will offer travelers optional activities and side trips in and around Havana."
New destinations in 2017 could include tour programs to Cayo Santa Maria and Caya Coco, island beach destinations off Cuba's north central coast.