Why Travel Now

The following is a letter from Lee Marona,  president of Vaya Sojourns,U.S. licensed travel provider to Cuba.

December 17, 2014

Dear Colleagues:

Needless to say our phones have been ringing off the hook this morning in light of President Obama’s announcement regarding restoration of ties with Cuba after over a half century of what most of us consider to be a terribly failed political policy.  Many of you are anxious for more detail and understanding of both the intent of Pres. Obama’s statement in terms of liberalizing travel to Cuba, as well as future US and Cuban regulations and licensing requirements enabling US and Cuban – American travel to Cuba.

 Two sets of remarks follow:  (1) current known fact (2) my personal opinion.

 FACT

I have spoken to the head of the US Treasury Dept. Office of Foreign Assets Control (Miami office) this morning.  He was not able to answer many of my specific questions because government officials are not in a position to comment before they receive specific instructions in writing from whomever their superiors may be, in this case the President of the United States. This has not happened at the time of this writing.

Nothing is going to change (NOTHING) – no regulations or licensing requirement changes – until specific data is published in the National Register. Nobody at OFAC knows when that will be; although word has come down from on high that President Obama wants this done quickly.  The word “quickly” could not be defined. We all know “quickly” is a very non-definitive word in Washington these days and I don’t expect it to be defined any better with the new Congress that will show up in January. 

 Until further notice we all need to proceed under current regulations and procedures that may or may not change dramatically in the near or not-so-near future.  This is OFAC “speak,” not my speak.

 OPINION

 I think it pertinent to share a quote by Reuters news agency,

 "The policy shift will mean a relaxation in some aspects of commerce and transportation between the United States and Cuba, but it does not mean an end to the longstanding trade embargo, which needs congressional approval that Obama may face a struggle getting. And while travel restrictions that currently make it hard for most Americans to visit will be eased, the door will not yet be open for broad U.S. tourism on the Caribbean island."

I add to this the remark from Pres. Obama that he specifically mentioned the phrase “People to People travel” in his speech this morning. That wasn’t by accident. I firmly believe there will continue to be licensing requirements for US residents to be able to travel legally to Cuba. There may be some liberalization of requirements but people-to-people requirements clearly remain a priority by the President. 

As Americans we tend to look at essential political issues from our perspective and often forget, or don’t see, issues from the other side. There is another player in this debate, and that player is Cuba. From the Cuban perspective I have the following comments (opinion) that you might wish to consider:

The country of Cuba simply does not have the infrastructure required to service mass travel from the USA, and they won’t be able to build that infrastructure in the near term.  Those of you who currently use Vaya Sojourns, along with our partner in Cuba, are in a highly unique position to be able to garner the best hotels (highly limited supply), the best guides, busses, restaurants, and culturally diverse daily programs that can be had in that small country.  All these services are “relationship” based in Cuba and the relationship that your company currently enjoys through Vaya Sojourns is long established in Cuba. 

 Bottom line:  with or without licensing requirements or People to People this or that, etc. ad infinitum – we all need the resources to be able to provide a high level of consistency, value and quality for clients traveling to Cuba.  Should your clients think they can produce this experience on their own, they are wrong.  The real issue today is they won’t know they’re wrong until some of them try.

 I predict for at least the next year – no question for the next 6 months minimum – Cuba is quite simply SOLD OUT already with current bookings. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t get a “Stop Sales” notice from hotels in Cuba. FYI, that’s their term for “Don’t even bother to call – we’re oversold”. This isn’t going to change. I predict it will only get worse in the future.

I have read numerous predictions this morning that prices will be reduced in Cuba as competition gets stronger with more and more American tour operators sending more people to Cuba.  These so called “experts” are quite simply bass-ackwards in their predictions. Price pressures when considering travel to Cuba don’t come from American operators competing to send clients to Cuba. Price pressures are developed by the Cubans and their Ministry of Tourism. This is strictly a supply and demand economic issue – not a competitive issue. From the Cuban perspective, not the American pundit perspective, supply and demand with more Americans traveling will increase prices – not decrease them. Why on earth would Cubans lower prices with a clear increase in demand for an already insufficient supply of product?

NOW Is the time to travel to Cuba.  Two primary reasons why to travel there as soon as possible:

a. There will be liberalization of travel restrictions to Cuba. We don’t know the details at this time; however, I am certain that whatever these liberalized restrictions are will increase travel to Cuba by Americans. That translates to higher prices in the future and less of a supply of required services like hotels, busses, decent guides, etc. 

b. The “essential” Cuba as we know it – the Cuba of the last half century – will change.  I don’t know what form the change will take but change will come due to these liberalized regulations.  Vast changes occurred in China and Vietnam, and Myanmar (Burma) is changing as I write this – all due do liberalized travel restrictions for Americans. Cuba will change. 

Best regards to you all and happy holidays!

Lee Marona
President
Vaya Sojourns, Inc.

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