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    Few Americans booking new Cuba cruises – Survey

    Survey: Few Americans booking new Cuba cruises
    CRUISE LOG
    Gene Sloan, USA TODAY 5:07 p.m. EDT September 2, 2015

    The thaw in relations between the USA and Cuba has set off a race among
    cruise companies to start up sailings between the countries. But so far,
    few Americans are booking the trips, according to a survey conducted for
    USA TODAY by one of North America’s largest travel sellers.

    The survey of 1,034 travel agents who book cruises by Travel Leaders
    Group found that just 2.9% have taken a booking for one of the recently
    announced Cuba voyages.

    Still, nearly 42% of travel agents queried said they’ve had a
    customer express interest in the trips.

    “There is excitement and interest, but it really is too early to see
    that translate into a significant amount of bookings,” says Travel
    Leaders Group spokesperson Kathy Gerhardt.

    Conducted from Aug. 3 to Aug. 25, the survey included responses from
    travel agency owners, managers, and front-line travel agents from the
    Travel Leaders brand, along with those affiliated with Travel Leaders
    Group’s Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, Results!
    Travel, Travel Leaders Corporate, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com units.

    Small-ship lines Pearl Seas Cruises and Haimark as well as cruise giant
    Carnival Corp.’s new fathom brand have announced new Cuba cruises from
    Miami in recent months. The parent of Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania
    Cruises also is looking into launching Cuba cruises.

    In addition, a large number of North America-based tour operators
    including such giants as Globus have begun selling Cuba cruises using
    space on a 960-passenger, Cuba-based ship operated by Celestyal Cruises
    and by chartering smaller vessels.

    One factor that may be keeping some Americans from booking the trips is
    that they’re structured as “people-to-people” exchanges that are allowed
    under the USA’s five-decade-old embargo of Cuba. General leisure travel
    from the USA to Cuba including traditional cruises still is banned.

    Under U.S. government rules, people-to-people trips to Cuba must focus
    on educational exchanges between U.S. travelers and Cubans, and they
    typically feature a full-time schedule of interactions with Cuban
    musicians, artists and other locals. They aren’t tourist-oriented, and
    breaking away from the group for self-directed exploring or skipping an
    activity isn’t allowed.

    The trips also are pricey, with fathom’s new sailings starting at nearly
    $6,000 per couple for a week-long trip, not including taxes and port
    fees. That’s more than triple the starting price for a typical
    seven-night Caribbean sailing with Carnival Corp.’s flagship Carnival brand.

    Demand for Cuba cruises is expected to soar if traditional sailings to
    the country become available. In a Travel Leaders Group survey of more
    than 3,000 travelers earlier this year, 8.8% of respondents said they
    would go to Cuba immediately if all restrictions on travel were lifted.
    Another 14.9% said they would go as soon as they believed Cuba was ready
    for Americans, with 35.4% more saying they might consider going.

    Travel Leaders Group encompasses nearly one-third of all travel agents
    in North America, generating gross travel sales of approximately $20
    billion a year.

    Source: Survey: Few Americans booking new Cuba cruises –
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/cruiselog/2015/09/02/cuba-cruise-survey/71565534/