Saturday, December 20, 2014

New England: Cuba Hot For Local Travel Companies

BOSTON (CBS) – New England will have a big stake in expanded travel to Cuba in the next few years.

Collette Tours, with its headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, already holds an educational license to fly people from Miami to Cuba for scheduled seven night tours. Last year, it took almost 600 people to Cuba.

Collette is a member of The United States Tour Association. In a survey taken before diplomatic relations between the two countries were set to resume in over 60 years, Cuba was the second most country that people wanted to visit. First placed went to Myanmar, better known as Burma.

Prices for tours are expected to fall as competition grows. The cost for a week in Cuba on a Collette Tours trip is currently about $4,000.

AAA Southern New England, the largest travel agency in New England, had no comment on the changing situation.

The corporation that has the most at stake when unrestricted travel is allowed to Cuba is JetBlue Airways, currently ranked number one in passengertraffic at Logan Airport.

JetBlue has grown its Boston business by flying to more Caribbean destinations than any airline in New England. Recently it deferred an airplane order with Air Bus, in a plan to increase earnings and reduce its expenses. The carrier will have to shift routes and schedules as the new market opens.

Massport, which runs Logan Airport, is taking a wait and see attitude to a new international route, but would obviously support such an effort.

Massachusetts based Cape Air, which already flies many routes from San Juan, could begin flights from Key West, only 90 miles away.

Cruise companies already offering weekly Caribbean routes will certainly seek out ports in Cuba. It is a large island with a population of 11 million.

Newton based Trip Advisor said Cuba ranked number one in their 2013 poll of “Destinations On the Rise.”

“Can’t wait until they open non-restricted travel,” said Bill Walsh, CEO of Cruise Travel Outlet, one of the largest regional cruise travel agencies. “It will be a while before the hotel infrastructure will be able to handle the influx of demand from the U.S, so cruise lines will benefit the most initially.”

Canadian and European hotel chains have built major properties in Cuba. Marriott Hotels and Resorts is already planning expansion to the island.

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