The owner of U.S. based travel agency DestinationCuba.com has been coordinating travel to Cuba for 10 years said the recent lifting of the three-year restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting Cuba means more changes are coming – and it’s about time.
Rob Hodel, who owns Tico Travel in Fort Lauderdale with his brother Steve, said the new rules mean the “slate” on past trips made by Cuban Americans has been wiped clean and that as a result, he predicts, travel will increase dramatically among them as well as others now allowed to travel.
And he’s ready. Hodel’s firm is revamping their website DestinationCuba.com and adding staff, anticipating a dramatic rise in demand for their services by Cuban Americans and others now allowed to travel to Cuba, such as those involved in agricultural sales, another area the U.S. government gave the green light to by the president’s signing of the Omnibus bill this week.
“We anticipate a major up tick in clients traveling to Cuba, and if you now qualify due to the new rules, we’re ready to help you get there – whether you’re flying from New York, Denver, Miami or even Peoria. We think this is also a sign of what’s to come – it’s just a matter of time before more restrictions are lifted and Cuba is open to all U.S. citizens,” said Hodel. “And it’s long overdue.”
Unlike most agencies now serving the Cuba market, Tico Travel, through its Cuba division, DestinationCuba.com, is a bonded ARC Platinum level wholesaler, which gives it the ability to issue tickets via Sabre and Amadeus reservation platforms with point-to-point airfare from more than 3,000 cities in the United States to Havana.
“Newly authorized travelers can avoid the draconian and oppressive restrictions on the limited number of charter flights from the United States by booking through us and going to Cuba via third countries on major carriers,” Hodel said. “With charter flights, the short hop from Miami to Havana can run $700 or more and you can only book less than three months in advance.”
“We can get authorized travelers to Havana much cheaper and faster, without baggage restrictions, extra fees and the long check-in,” he added. “You arrive at a special terminal with the charter flights too; it’s just a real pain. So we have a huge advantage over the charter flights.”
Hodel and his firm are also putting together a program of private home stays.
“We’re also offering authorized travelers to stay in private homes at just a fraction of the cost of government run hotels, so they get to see the “real” Cuba before it’s too late,” said Hodel. “Finding rooms in any of the island’s many hotels is going to be an issue. We are working with the many private homes that offer rooms at a much more favorable rate. It also is a way to get to know first hand how the Cuban people live and the ability for travelers to help improve the lives of their hosts at the same time.”
“As far as I know, Tico Travel and DestinationCuba.com are the only ones that offer this option at this level, and it’s a far better way to get to know the real Cuba,” he said.
Hodel, who was a lawyer before getting into the travel business, noted the language in the bill signed by President Obama is crucial for other potential travelers.
“If they allow anyone that is considering selling food or medical related items to Cuba the ability to travel without having to get prior approval it may mean more Americans will be able to travel. We are going to have to get more guidance from OFAC on this first,” he added.
Founded in 1992, Tico Travel (http://www.ticotravel.com) was early to see the opportunities in travel to Costa Rica and Central America, quickly becoming the discount airfare and vacation leader to these destinations. Today, the company is one of the largest wholesale travel companies in volume of airfare sold to Latin America. Hodel’s company owns their own hotel, luxury vacation home rentals, restaurant and gated development in Costa Rica has been a leader in the travel business in this part of the world and has consulted for all the major guidebooks as well as The United States government.
“We do business with Libya, Vietnam and China so it’s ridiculous that we do not do the same with Cuba, who the United States has never had a direct war with,” he added. “It’s time to open up Cuba and also help these people.”
Rob Hodel, Tico Travel
Web Site: http://www.ticotravel.com