Just two years after the Obama administration relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, many major tour companies are now jockeying for the hearts and wallets of U.S. tourists.
And why not? When the Grand Circle Foundation, part of Grand Circle Corp., offered its first licensed educational exchange trip to Cuba (known as a people-to-people tour) in 2011, it attracted about 1,000 travelers. Last year that figure jumped to 1,900. In 2013, the company expects to take more than 2,200 U.S. tourists to Cuba. And that’s just one agency.
People-to-people tours are education-based trips — one can’t simply show up and luxuriate at the beach — that can be offered only by travel companies that have obtained a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
This year, there is even more competition, with experienced operators — Globus, People to People Ambassador Programs, Discovery Tours by Gate 1 — introducing their first Cuba tours. Tours aren’t cheap; even a six-day tour can cost around $3,000 a person (not including airfare).
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At the same time, companies well-practiced at taking travelers to Cuba are widening their reach to particular groups; for instance, in the spring, Insight Cuba partnered with Coda International Tours to offer luxury gay tours of the island.
The latest tours are more frequent and far-reaching than ever. Companies such as Abercrombie & Kent are taking visitors to more remote spots on the island, allowing them to explore beyond Havana. And operators like National Geographic Expeditions — among the first to offer people-to-people tours back in 2011 — now have additional departures.
Other companies offering Cuba tours include Discover Tours (music-oriented, including jazz), Insight Cuba and Smithsonian Journeys.