US visa rules and lack of flights blamed for Captivating Cuba’s demise

By Lisa James
Home » US visa rules and lack of flights blamed for Captivating Cuba’s demise

AITO has said ‘operating complexities’ and a cut in air capacity played significant roles in Captivating Cuba’s closure.

The operator, which had been a member of AITO since 2019, ceased trading on 10 May.

AITO Chairman Chris Rowles said: “The loss of Captivating Cuba is of course hugely regrettable.  A significant factor in the company’s demise is the complexities when operating in Cuba, as well as the recent loss of summer 2024 air capacity, as a result of TUI’s cancellation of its direct flight – the only such direct flight from the UK to Cuba.”

AITO told Travel Gossip complexities included ‘visa difficulties’ for travellers to the US after visiting Cuba and the fact the majority of UK banks restrict bank transfer payments direct to Cuba, due to US sanctions.

TUI dropped its Manchester to Varadero route at the end of April, after a long-haul review, although Captivating Cuba Director Matthew O’Sullivan had insisted TUI’s decision to axe the UK’s only direct flight to Cuba would not impact bookings, saying there were still ‘plenty of competitively-priced flights’ to Cuba from the UK, including Air France via Paris and Iberia via Madrid.

New charters, from Manchester to Holguin every Friday and Gatwick to Cayo Coco every Sunday had been due to start on 10 and 12 May respectively.

However, as reported earlier today in Travel Gossip, Iron Travel, which is chartering the flights, has pushed the start date back. It now hopes to operate a Gatwick to Holguin and Havana service twice a week from the end of June or early July, and has scrapped plans for the Manchester service.

Some agents told Travel Gossip concerns over the extra hassle of getting a visa for people who want to visit the US after they have been to Cuba is putting travellers off.

People who have travelled to Cuba since January 2021 cannot apply for an ESTA to travel under the US Visa Waiver Program. Instead, they need to apply for a US visa.

Simone Adams, Senior Travel Consultant at Sutton Travel in Sutton Coldfield, said: “The demand is there, people are asking for Cuba. But people are worried about how visiting Cuba may affect future travel plans to the US.

“I had two recent queries, one last month, one this month and Captivating Cuba put together fantastic itineraries and great quotes but both came back and said that, while they loved the trip details, they’d decided against it.

“The first client’s 70-year-old brother-in-law lives in US and they were worried in case they might have to get out there quickly to visit him.

“The second booking was similar. The client was really happy with the trip details, but eventually decided against it as she said her husband was concerned that he might have to go out to the US on business.”

Simply Cuba Business Development Manager Alan Meadows said people shouldn’t be put off visiting Cuba because they will need a visa to visit the US afterwards, saying: “It’s just another hurdle to jump over. It doesn’t mean to say that they are going to be denied access to the US. Cuba’s a bucket-list destination and people want to travel there.”

Meanwhile, AITO said the closure of Captivating Cuba was a wake-up call to the Government to help smaller tour operators that had struggled during the pandemic.

“The sector is largely made up of SMEs who have been ignored during the plight of the pandemic. We therefore ask the Government to ensure that our views are heard when considering regulatory changes or financial support to the industry, to ensure we go from strength to strength,” Chris added.

“In the meantime, we wish Captivating Cuba and all the team there the very best at this hugely difficult time in helping their customers.  The AITO team is here to help if help is needed.”

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