Monday, March 27, 2017

Putting Air Reductions in Context

A few words about markets, U.S. airlines, and that other travel ban (Cuba)

Analysis from Cuba Central

Today’s message, quite simply, is this: Recent headlines that read The Cuba travel bubble is popping and Now That Cuba Is Open, Americans Aren’t Going  got it wrong. So, we’ve written this essay to try and set the facts straight.

Travel from the U.S. to Cuba is going up, and it could be doing even better if policy makers would just legalize all forms of it, the way a majority of Americans want them to.

This is worth digging into. First, let’s start at a comfortable cruising altitude of 30,000 feet before diving into the weeds.

As Cuba Journal reminded us recently, “Cuba is the only country in the world where Americans face travel restrictions.” You can even visit North Korea as a tourist without asking permission from President Trump or Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, although it’s a risky place for U.S. travelers. Meanwhile, travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by U.S. law.

President Obama took significant steps to reduce U.S. restrictions on non-tourist travel to Cuba – ending limits on travel by Cuban Americans with family on the island, restoring people-to-people visits and, critically, using diplomacy with Cuba’s government to restart regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island by U.S. carriers in the middle of 2016.

As Brookings reported late last year, the relative trickle of 91,000 visitors to Cuba in 2014 rose to 161,000 visits in 2015, and to a veritable flood of over 280,000 visits in 2016, according to this recent estimate.

Before the recent changes, charter carriers remained stalwart for decades serving the Cuban market under onerous travel rules that restricted flights and kept prices high. When restrictions were loosened, traditional economic forces went to work. “As generations of U.S.- or U.K.-trained economists would predict,” a U.S.-trained economist told us, “prices fell and the total number of seats sold went up.”

Bloomberg, normally fact-based, got it wrong when it reported in February, “still, there are few Yankees heading to Havana.” On the contrary, U.S. demand is both strong and rising rapidly now, and the trend points the same way. As Travel Pulse reports, travel agents are seeing “an explosion of Cuba bookings” going forward. They say, “Nearly 22 percent of its leisure-focused travel agents have already booked clients for Cuba travel in 2017 while more than 59 percent said clients are interested in going this year.”

In fact, many of the carriers awarded routes to Cuba are doing well – this comes not from promotional materials but filings by American Airlines, Southwest, and Delta with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Southwest, for example, lists its 44th consecutive year of profitability and its decision to launch “service to Cuba with daily flights to Varadero, followed by service to Havana, our 100th city served, and Santa Clara” in its 2016 list of a dozen notable accomplishments.

By the same token, some U.S. airlines are dropping flights, as NBC News reported in its refreshingly informed piece. Silver Airways is dropping out the market entirely on April 22, explaining that “other airlines continue to serve this market with too many flights and oversized aircraft.” Frontier Airlines is terminating its Miami-Havana flight on June 4, saying “costs in Havana to turn an aircraft significantly exceeded our initial assumptions.”

While claiming the mantle of “Economics 101,” Fabiola Sanchez, in her Miami Herald column, was actually practicing Cold War Ideology 1.0. “Blame over the lack of greater demand sits squarely with the paranoid and repressive Cuban state,” she writes, “which fails to modernize politically and economically, no matter how much this country and the rest of the world opens up to them.”

What is so important about travel to Cuba is that it allows Americans to visit the island, speak directly to Cubans, and learn from them how they view their lives, their opportunities and, yes, their government.  The portrait they paint can be both inspiring and worrisome in the same conversation. What is consistent is that Cubans don’t tell visitors from the States to go home, but to come back.

The adjustment taking place in the Cuban market is not about politics, but economics and regulation. One of the things that Bloomberg got right is that our airlines, “with no idea about demand, were overly ambitious when they jousted for the limited routes allowed by U.S. regulators. With a mandate for only 110 daily U.S. flights – 20 into Havana, the most popular destination – the carriers tumbled over each other last year to get a piece of the pie, leaving the island oversubscribed.”

It isn’t a surprise that Silver and Frontier are folding their tents, or that carriers like JetBlue have cut back. In a globalized economy, and with a new, emerging market, this happens all the time. Our friend the economist observes: “Airlines spend millions on programs to strategically and tactically game prices and routes, and flights to Cuba are now part of that game. Entrants will come and go, seasonal variations may increase, demand will be sensitive to US economic trends. All of this is normal. Year over year, the market continues to grow. That is the fundamental fact to date.”

The market is going to continue to adjust, and Cuba’s government and its tourism industry will have to be part of that adjustment if it wants first-time travelers to return, rather than losing them to equally warm and less expensive destinations in the Caribbean.

But, the airlines need to step up as well. They’re running this advertisement in Washington, appealing to President Trump to protect American jobs and to enforce the so-called “Open Skies” Agreement which, they say, benefits U.S. airlines, workers, and passengers.

If they want to continue doing business in Cuba, their voices need to be heard – loudly, urgently, presently – to stop the administration or Congress from rolling back our hard won rights to visit Cuba now, and urge the end of the unconstitutional ban on tourist travel as soon as possible.

Cuba isn’t North Korea, and America needs to act like America and demonstrate it knows the difference.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

RESPECT (Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel)

An association of U.S. Travelers to Cuba

Mission Statement
RESPECT (Responsible and Ethical Cuba Travel) is a U.S. professional association uniting nonprofit entities, travel agents, tour operators and other travel service providers dedicated to practicing and promoting ethical and socially responsible travel to Cuba.


Members of the Association agree to uphold the following principles in organizing travel to Cuba:

1.     We understand that the opportunity to visit Cuba is a step towards promoting mutual understanding and learning, through firsthand respectful exchanges, contributing to more informed, pro-active and responsible global citizenship on the part of all concerned.

2.     We frame our Principles in the context of the internationally agreed-upon UN Sustainable Development Goals and respect for Cuba’s path to sustainable development, as determined by Cubans themselves.

3.     “First do no harm” – the cornerstone of medical ethics worldwide – is fundamental to the principles that guide our organizations and those who travel to Cuba with us, respecting historical sites and natural areas and leaving them as we find them without disturbing their peace and sanctity .

4.     We encourage our travelers – before they travel – to learn about Cuba and its history from a variety of sources, including Cuban sources.

5.     We are committed to transparency in our relations with all Cuban entities and people, accurately and honestly representing ourselves and our intentions.

6.     We affirm our commitment to respect all Cubans, without regard to skin color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, political persuasion, abilities or economic status.

7.     We are committed to upholding non-exploitative relationships with Cuban entities and people, and respect for policies and laws enacted to prevent discrimination and exploitation of all kinds.

8.     We promote healthy and respectful travel to Cuba and vehemently oppose “sex tourism” and associated businesses in any form, all of these prohibited by Cuban law.

9.     We are committed to support Cuba’s efforts to confront climate change and protect the environment, actively contributing to conservation of energy and water resources, as well as protection of urban and rural landscapes, flora, fauna, beaches and marine life.

10.  We will respect the authenticity of Cuban culture, its heritage, multiple roots and manifestations, as well as the cultural contributions of the Cuban people to world culture. We will consciously help to care for and maintain the country’s UNESCO-identified World Heritage Sites and other monuments and sites that constitute part of Cuba’s cultural patrimony.

11.  We will abide by Cuban laws and regulations pertinent to our travel, including but not limited to immigration and customs regulations.

12.  We are committed to protecting the health of our travelers and the Cuban people, by doing our part to keep infectious diseases and prohibited drugs from entering Cuba.

13.  We encourage travelers to purchase products made in Cuba particularly from those who contribute to local development efforts, giving back to their communities.

14.  We uphold the rights of travelers and their hosts in Cuba to be treated with respect and dignity, and commit ourselves to addressing issues of concern in this area through established mechanisms between the Association and its Cuban counterparts, in a spirit of constructive dialogue and joint reflection.

15.  We believe all US citizens and residents have the right to travel to Cuba, and advocate lifting all US governmental travel restrictions to the island.

16.  As an Association, we encourage our members’ efforts to support travel to Cuba by people of modest means, making the island a destination for the many, not just the few.

17.  The Association supports Cuba’s contribution to the Caribbean as a zone of peace, and as a safe and peaceful destination for all travelers.

Hotel Melia Cohiba
Havana, Cuba
September 29 and 30, 2017

Draft Program (subject to change):

Friday, September 29

8:00am             Registration             (Participants will collect registration material and pay the
                                                    250 CUC Registration Fee)
Sustainable Tourism and the Impact of the Significant Increase in Visitors:
The View from Cuba

For the first day, many Cuban organizations and institutions have been invited to participate and exchange with us including the Cuban Friendship Institute (ICAP), the Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), Tourism (MINTUR), Education (MINED), Culture (MINCULT) and Public Health (MINSAP), the National Assembly, Cuba’s Environmental Agency (Agencia de Media Ambiente), Office of the City Historian, the Dr. Martin Luther King Center, the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) , University of Havana, the authorized Cuban tour operators for the U.S. market, Cuban Sports Federation (INDER), Cuban Council of Churches, Patronato Jewish Community Center, Central Trade Union Federation (CTC), Small Farmers Association (ANAP), Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) , the National Union of Cuban Jurists (UNJC), Casa de las Americas, and the Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation (FANJ)

Morning presentations and exchanges
                          Welcome and introduction of our theme:          Bob Guild, Co-Coordinator, RESPECT
                             Presentation by Elio Gámez, Vice President of ICAP, President of Amistur
Presentation by the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR): “How Cuba coordinates efforts towards sustainable tourism:
Remarks from a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX)
Presentation by Cuba’s Environmental Agency

Lunch at the hotel

Afternoon roundtable discussions
                             Roundtable 1
Presentation on “Tourism and the Protection of Cuba’s Cultural Patrimony” by a representative from the Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC)
Discussion and Exchange on Sustainable and Ethical Travel to Cuba
                             Roundtable 2
                                           Presentation on “Tourism and its impact on Cuban workers” by a representative
                                           from Cuba’s trade union federation (CTC)
Discussion and Exchange on Sustainable and Ethical Travel to Cuba

7:00pm               Welcome Reception at the Hotel Melia Cohiba

Saturday, September 30

9:00am             Short presentations by the other Cuban tour agencies working with the U.S.
                          including Havanatur, San Cristobal, Cubatur, Cubanacan, and Gaviota
RESPECT Internal Meeting

10:00am           In his June 16th speech announcing new restrictions on travel and doing business in Cuba, President Trump indicated further details would be announced by the Treasury, Commerce, and State Departments by September 15th. We will have an update and discussion of these restrictions.

Morning and
Afternoon Sessions
-          The Principles of Respect based on the previous day’s discussions and exchanges: strengthening, amending, adding principles.
-          Promoting the Principles of Respect in our work
-          Proposals and ideas for activities of Respect
-          Structure of Respect: 501C3 status, Grants, Staffing, Newsletter
-          Expanding the membership
-          Leadership expansion
-          Membership dues
-          Open exchange and observations

6:00pm             Farewell Reception at Casa de la Amistad