Cuban tourism not as robust as some had hoped

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Travel restrictions remain in effect, perhaps dissuading many travelers

The Caribbean has been jam-packed with vacationing Americans this winter, with one glaring exception: Cuba. The long-isolated nation became open to U.S. tourists in September and the travel industry anticipated a bonanza.

But Yanquis have been largely staying home or going elsewhere, as airlines and the travel industry realize they may have become carried away with their enthusiasm.  

The air rush into Cuba “wasn’t based on demand but speculation," said Karen Esposito, general manager of the Cuba Travel Network, in a recent Bloomberg report. And, as is so often the case with speculation, early hopes have been dashed.

American Airlines has cut back daily flights by 25 percent while JetBlue has put smaller planes on the route because of lower than expected load factors.

Travel industry analysts say that airlines were so focused on getting one of the 110 daily "slots" for flights into Cuba that they went overboard and put too much capacity onto the routes before there was sufficient demand.

Open for business

Part of the problem may be that while Cuba has declared itself open for business, the 54-year-old U.S. embargo that prohibits American tourism to Cuba is still in place. Technically, those traveling to Cuba must fall into one of a number of categories, the most popular being "people-to-people" exchanges. Group tours are usually classified as educational. 

While it's not hard to meet these requirements, it still imposes an extra layer of effort that many pleasure travelers don't care to make. 

Also, there are still restrictions on personal financial transactions by Americans in Cuba. In most cases, this means you can't use your credit card in Cuba but must instead carry around a few thousand dollars in cash to pay hotel bills, restaurant tabs, and cab fares -- not something most tourists are eager to do.

There has reportedly been an epidemic of price inflation as well, as local businesses expected large waves of free-spending Americanos to come ashore at any moment.

Travel insiders say the regulations really don't inhibit experienced travelers who are well aware that enforcement is minimal. But President Trump's crackdown on border entries is not helping to encourage those who might otherwise risk a trip to the once-forbidden isle, travel industry observers say.

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