The landscape for authorized travel to Cuba by Americans may have recently shifted and tightened, but CEO Gavin Tollman believes the timing for Trafalgar Tours' entry into the market is "perfect."
The operator in January will debut in Cuba with its nine-day From Cuban Cigars to American Cars people-to-people group program.
"We saw the trend building for Cuba travel, and we've been watching it for more than two years," Tollman said. "There is always the challenge of going into a new destination correctly."
The Cuba itinerary was pretty much firmed up by last year, but Tollman said that "we wanted to be absolutely sure that our itinerary would meet OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] regulations, so we missed the deadline for 2017 itineraries."
When President Trump's policy regarding travel to Cuba was announced on June 16, Trafalgar found its itinerary "tied seamlessly" to the new policy, Tollman said. "We are 100% compliant with the new rules and regulations, so I believe we are launching at the perfect time."
Trump's policy eliminates the ability for Americans to travel individually under the people-to-people travel category and reverted to the pre-2016 rule that anyone traveling under that category be part of a group.
Trafalgar is entering a crowded field of people-to-people group programs, some of which have been running successfully for years. But Tollman said that Trafalgar guests "will see and feel the heartbeat of the destination."
"I have some of the best product development people on my team, such as Christophe Gaye, head of product development, and he made many trips to Cuba to find its unique and distinctive features for our tours."
The program, like many of Trafalgar's escorted group offerings, features the Be My Guest experience, which includes meeting, interacting with and breaking bread with a local family.
Tours also include several sites not normally visited on other programs, such as Cayo Santa Maria, Remedios and the Bay of Pigs Museum.
"We did not want to do a Havana-to-Havana tour, so our guests fly into Camaguey and depart out of Havana," Tollman said.
The Trafalgar program departs monthly through December 2018, although March, April and May have several departures. The land-only price starts at $4,400 per person but drops slightly in the summer months. Tours are capped at 24 participants and include a local guide and a Trafalgar representative. The price includes accommodations, most meals and motorcoach transportation.