Since Cuba opened as a destination for U.S. tourism, so too has a new market for incentive planners. While many companies talk about Cuba as a bucket-list destination for programs, it is imperative that planners go on a FAM trip to the country before taking clients. Coming off a recent visit, Deborah Elias, CSEP, CMP, CIS, president of Houston-based Elias Events, shares her takeaways.
Most major carriers are now offering nonstop flights from several metropolitan hubs, including Houston; Newark, New Jersey; Charlotte, North Carolina; Orlando; and Los Angeles, which means travel time is cut in half and layovers in Miami are minimal. The airline ticket price includes health insurance, which is required by the Cuban government.
Getting a visa is an easy process and can be done at the airport (it cannot be purchased ahead of time) for a $75 fee. Of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, support for the Cuban people and humanitarian projects are the most appropriate.
Contrary to popular belief, Cuban food is good—but only at paladares, restaurants run by self-employers instead of the government. Most of them are in run-down buildings, but the restaurants themselves are beautifully renovated and the food selections are vast and delectable.
Impressive tours and experiences showcase the incredible history of Cuba. Cuba Travel Services runs tours to Varadero, a gorgeous beach town about two hours from Havana, and tobacco plantations set in the mountains an equal distance away. In Havana proper, an abundance of art, culture, fantastic cars from the ’50s and of course Ernest Hemingway hangouts (with Floridita being the most popular) are ready to explore.
Accommodations include a number of large hotel chains such as Iberostar and Melia, as well as Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which is the most famous property (although its government-run restaurants are quite lacking). Intimate boutique hotels such as the Saratoga are perfect for small incentives.