Friendly Planet Travel has acquired InsightCuba, in a move designed "to bring a unified voice to the certainty of legal travel to Cuba by Americans and increased demand for the destination," said Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet.
No major structural changes are planned.
Goldman will continue to head Friendly Planet, based in Jenkintown, Pa., and Tom Popper will remain as president of InsightCuba in Rye, N.Y., and will later take on an executive role at Friendly Planet.
"We will continue to operate independently," Goldman said. "Each of us will sell the programs that we now offer. It's a marriage made in heaven, because both of us share a strong philosophy about the indisputable role of travel to improve lives through economic development and true human connection, and we both love Cuba.
"It's this enthusiasm and shared sense of purpose that brought our companies together and will inform our future plans," she said.
Popper added that "we are two companies, with one mind and one purpose. We believe in the power of travel to transform."
The deal closed in July, but Goldman said, "we wanted to wait till we were all back from vacation and able to plan everything around our next steps before we announced the acquisition publicly there were a lot of issues involving staffing, bank accounts, corporate papers, state licenses and all the other things that make the deal a living thing, not just an idea on paper."
Terms were not disclosed.
Friendly Planet began selling Cuba programs in 2011, when the Obama administration loosened travel restrictions and reinstated the people-to-people category of travel. InsightCuba has been selling Cuba since 2000. The programs were off limits from 2004 to 2010 under the Bush administration.
Both Goldman and Popper emphasized the need to propel Cuba back into the spotlight following the Trump administration's abrupt moves in June that eliminated Cuba as a U.S. cruise destination and removed the people-to-people category of travel (the category of Support for the Cuban People, which closely resembles people-to-people, is still in effect).
"Cuba is not a destination to be abandoned," Goldman said. "Both of us have faith in the destination of Cuba, and considering the bad news and confusion about travel to Cuba now, we know there is great interest and demand for travel there."
Since the elimination of cruising to the island from the U.S., it has become the top-searched country on the Friendly Planet website, up 177% year-over-year, according to Goldman. "Interest in the destination has surpassed our expectations, and we are projecting travel to Cuba to be strong for the rest of 2019 and 2020," she said.
Popper said that "this is a new era for travel to Cuba. We've got lots of air options, it is a close destination and remains a safe one. It's a culturally rich country; Cubans are a resilient people; and we've got great ideas how we can and should operate in this travel space."
Goldman said that the recent changes have had severe consequences on the Cuban people who have developed an economy reliant upon a deeply immersive style of travel.
"Travel to Cuba by Americans is legal, and there is demand that cannot be undone," Goldman said.
Both Goldman and Popper said that they are "bullish" on the future of Cuba and travel to Cuba.
Both companies look to a robust approach in their future marketing and promotion of Cuba to advisors and consumers. Additional Cuba programs are in the offing in 2020 for the two companies.