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2019 – An interesting year for Cuba and Cubania Travel

January 2, 2020 | by James Corporal

Looking back at 2019 and what it brought us, we have a lot to be thankful for at Cubania Travel and a whole other lot to be excited for in 2020. Cuba as a holiday destination continues to be as popular as ever despite Trump’s hostile travel restrictions for U.S. travellers and his curtailing of Cuba travel options. 2019 was the year Cuba welcomed not one but two royal visits, Havana celebrated its 500th anniversary in full flair and the island debuted a new constitution. Times are a-changing but Cuba is as beautiful, vibrant and puzzlingly seductive as ever and at Cubania Travel we’ll double down on our efforts to bring it to you in the most authentic way!


Cuba – 2019 in a nutshell

2019 was a mixed year for Cuba. While Havana had a lot to celebrate and spent much of the year in the build-up to its November birthday celebrations, setbacks included Donald Trump’s various accounts of further travel cutbacks and restrictive travel measures and fuel shortages that declared a state of emergency in the island’s public transport. But balancing the good and the bad, you’ll come to the conclusion that 2019 wasn’t all that bad for Cuba and us at Cubania Travel strengthened our position as Cuba adventure providers as we show travellers the kind of Cuban magic that you only find off the beaten path.

Highlights

Cuba has a non-Castro president for the first time in 43 years

On 10th October 2019 Miguel Díaz-Canel was declared President of Cuba (he had previously been elected President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers in April 2018) becoming the first Cuban president with no familial ties to Fidel Castro to assume office in more than four decades. The winds of change are blowing harder than ever in Cuba and although some may say that Cuba is still too slow to keep up with the times and adopt some needed drastic changes, they are coming at a faster pace than they have in years. They might seem slow to the world but some are remarkable for an island with Cuba’s many social and political peculiarities.

The dawn of a new Constitution

2019 was the year were Cuba debuted a new constitution. On February 2019, Cubans voted in a referendum that contained amendments to Cuba’s Carta Magna. The changes to the Cuban constitution were approved by an overwhelming majority and officially announced by the Cuban parliament on 10th April. Some of the most significant changes include the recognition of private property for the first time in over 40 years as well as limiting presidential terms to two consecutive terms of 5 years each.

4G Connectivity is a reality in Cuba (and mobile data packages too)

In terms of Cuba’s sluggish telecommunications service, the biggest milestone in 2019 was bringing 4G connectivity to the island’s growing network mobile phone users. In a year where the first mobile data packages were also launched, the increase in speed with 4G technology was welcomed by Cubans frustrated with slow connection, as well as tourists who demanded a better service.

Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary with a bang

The celebration of Havana’s half-millennium birthday had started a year earlier with the beautification of the city in various ways. A series of Havana hotels opened in 2019 to mark the occasion, from the chic SO/ Paseo del Prado La Habana to Kempinski‘s third Cuba hotel, the new Gran Hotel Bristol La Habana. But the official celebrations to mark the island’s milestone birthday on 16th November included a special gala with open-air concerts and spectacular fireworks in Old Havana, with the revived, restored and fabulously illuminated El Capitolio building taking centre stage.

2019 – the year of royal visits

Cuba certainly had star appeal in 2019. Two different royal families made history with their visits to the island, marking the first time a British heir to the throne and a reigning Spanish monarch landed in Cuba on official state visits. The British royals were first, with Prince Charles and Camilla landing in Havana for an official 3-day visit in March. The Spanish King and Queen followed, arriving in the island in time for the prelude to Havana’s 500th anniversary. Both visits marked historic moments that proved Cuba’s star power is here to stay.

Cuba’s star power in 2019

Other celebrities like Will Smith who ran the Marabana marathon completed the picture of stars in Cuba in 2019. It wasn’t the first time the Bad Boy star had been in Havana, and in a short video documenting his latest Cuba holiday, he said:

“The energy, the music, the food there’s something beautifully artistic about having to use what you have to make some beautiful about that. […] There’s a crazy energy, there’s an artistry about Cuban life takes on based on necessity. It has to be signed with your labour and your love. I see it everywhere.”

Lowlights

On a less enthusiastic note, 2019 was the year when Trump tightened restrictions regarding Cuba travel for U.S. citizens, the same restrictions that Obama had loosened in 2015. That should not be taken to mean, however, that Americans can’t travel to Cuba now, they still can, as long as they comply with a series of measures. Other setbacks

A freak tornado

2019 started rather on a sombre tone as on 28th January a rare tornado ravished Havana, killing 4 people and wounding 172. The tornado caused damages to schools, houses and government buildings, signalling a national emergency. It was a dire way to start Havana’s 500th anniversary year, but the city has been rebuilding itself ever since.

Trump’s travel restrictions

Back in June Trump announced measures to clamp down travel to Cuba for American citizens and residents. What do these restrictions mean in reality? You can’t stay in a number of state-owned and run hotels, the full list was published by the U.S. Treasury Department. If you’re an American you can still travel to Cuba in 2020 but you can’t do so independently. The only way you can legally make it to the island is through a licensed tour operator with a licensed packaged tour. Then in October, Trump hit again by suspending all flights to Cuban cities other than Havana. His administration followed up on this by announcing on 19th January this year that charter flights to Cuba would also be suspended, forcing U.S. charter companies to stop their routes to 9 provincial airports in Cuba starting March 2020. Sadly, under the influence of Trump, it’s all bad news for Cuba, but, hey, 2020 could mark the end of the Trump era!

Fuel shortages

In September 2019, the Cuban government announced the government would go through an exceptional period of fuel shortage, especially diesel, citing the influence of U.S. sanctions and intimidation tactics to providers. To mitigate the situation, they announced certain measures including facilitating flexible working and teleworking for state employees. The fuel problems could get worse in 2020, especially with the waning of Venezuela’s subsidised oil exports to the island.

The dawn of a new economic crisis?

In 2019 the Cuban economy experienced a slow-down due in great part to U.S. hostility and the reinforcement of embargo measures. There are many challenges ahead for Cuba’s economy in 2020, despite the island’s easing of legislations to boost the private sector and the flourishing of independent businesses. How to offset this negative outlook? By booking Cuba holidays! Tourism is Cuba’s second biggest source of income, so, the more travellers Cuba receives, the better its economy does!

2019 for Cubania Travel – our achievements, milestones and future projects

2019 has been a busy year for Cubania with a lot of exciting new ventures taking shape and new partnerships giving way to enriching new travel programmes.

Cubania Travel selected as DMC/Local Operator of the Year

2019 was a great year for Cubania Travel and one of our biggest achievements and honours was winning the LATA award as DMC/Local Operator of the year. The Latin American Travel Association (LATA) is a membership association aiming to promote Latin America as a Tourist Destination and stimulate the growth of travel to the region. The LATA Awards are celebrated annually and recognise innovation and excellence in the Latin American Travel Industry. Nominees are selected across the board; from airlines to tour operators, hotel chains, resorts, independent hotels and niche operators. These awards seek to reward true trailblazers and innovators in the field as well as give public recognition to the heroes of industry.

Launch of Cubania Website and Own Brand Tours

After solidifying our reputation in Cuba as a reputable DMC for adventure holidays and cycling tours, at Cubania travel we decided to take the leap and launch our own brand trips. We´ve placed a strong focus on Cycling Cuba Tours and the tours we launched back in January 2019 have had a great reception so far, with rapidly increasing popularity. Among our current bestsellers we have the Classic Cuba Cycle Tour and the recently launched 2-week Road Cycling Tour.

Launch of our Water-to-Go filter bottle

Even when Cuba is now considered the most sustainable country in the world, we don’t rest on our laurels! 2019 was the year we proudly launched our Cubania Water-to-Go filter bottle, aiming to further and significantly reduce our carbon footprint (and that of our Cuba holidaymakers) and our consumption of single use plastics.

Launch of Planeterra projects

After years of attempting to launch a project in Cuba, Planeterra approached us at the beginning of 2019 to help them with their Cuba plans. With our assistance they have finally been able to launch 2 community projects in Cuba! We’re proud to be part of the creation of Proyecto Manacu and Baracoa Community Tour.

Partnership with FlashPack

In 2019 Cubania Travel consolidated their relationship with FlashPack. After having started working with them towards the end of 2018, we were inspired by their concept of matching like-minded time-poor but cash rich professionals seeking an enriching holiday that includes top-notch accommodation and also features authentic, yet “hard to access” local experiences. Our partnership with FlashPack has allowed us to showcase Cuba’s amazing culture and quirky creativity to the eyes of curious discerning travellers and with Cuba’s jaw droppingly beautiful landscapes as a backdrop.

Teaming up with G Adventures

In autumn 2018 we were honoured to team up with G Adventures, the world’s largest adventure travel agency which has been working in Cuba for many years and leads the way in scoping out new destinations and finding new ways of exploring well-established ones. 2019 was the year when our partnership with G Adventures bore fruit, with more than 3,000 G Adventurers having visited Cuba through Cubania’s expert groundhandling. Working with G Adventures has been a thrilling experience that has challenged us to provide best value trips to young adventures wanting to experience Cuban like a Cuban – sweat and all!

Exciting times with Exodus Travels

Even though Exodus Travel is a UK-based company, after being bought by U.S. investment bankers KKR, Cuba became a forbidden fruit for the adventure travel agency. In order to comply with U.S. regulations the company now runs 2 fully compliant Cuba trips, the Cuba Highlights Ride and a Taste of Cuba. Exodus and Cubania have a long history of working together to offer quality biking and adventure trips to adventurous professionals and we’re delighted that in 2020 they’re reintroducing their best-selling 2-week cycling Cuba holiday – Cycle Cuba.

Backroads

Despite Trump’s rolling back of many of the advances in U.S.-Cuba relations, some U.S.-based travel agencies continue to offer fully compliant tours for Americans who are prepared to be open minded and explore Cuba. Such is the case of Backroads, who continue to offer their popular Cuba Cycling Tour and multisport programmes enabling Americans to travel to Cuba legally.

Hopes and Expectations for 2020

After closing 2019 on a high note, at Cubania Travel we are full of hope and expectation for what the next year will bring. In terms of hopes, we’d love more people finding our website, discovering our amazing Cuba cycling tours and deciding to travel to Cuba directly through us. Also on our wishlist for 2020 is the reduction or easing of restrictions for U.S. travellers so that more Americans can explore their fascinating neighbour and build better relations with the real, wonderful Cubans. We also expect to be able to put more work into ensuring that our tours are as sustainable as possible, trying to completely eliminate the use of Single Use Plastics and by continuing to reuse, reduce and recycle. We’d love it if the Cuban government relaxed the regulations for Cuban Private Enterprises and entrepreneurs so that many more Cubans could take the plunge and set up small businesses full of character and flair. And since we’re wishing, we’d be chuffed if more Brits embarked on authentic Cuba holidays!

If all or any of the above come true, us at Cubania Travel will be delighted!

Written by

James Corporal

James Corporal - Avid cyclist and cubaphile.

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