by Lisa A. Grimaldi | December 18, 2014
The reestablishment of diplomatic ties and removal of major travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba has incentive industry executives excited about the Caribbean nation's potential as a new group destination. SITE, the incentive industry association, said in a statement: "Increasing access to Cuba from the U.S. is a great step forward, and we're excited about the possibilities Cuba might offer as an emerging destination for incentive travel. A genuine Cuban experience will be an amazingly effective motivator, and SITE, along with all the incentive industry, will be researching the viability for incentive travel programs to Cuba over the coming year. As with any new market, we'll research hotels, optional activities, service and overall infrastructure."

Steve O'Malley, division president of Maritz Travel, one of the largest global meeting and incentive firms, likened the situation to the fall of the Berlin Wall. "It was exciting to see the destination open up, followed by other Eastern European destinations, after being off-limits for such a long time; the ability to visit Cuba [prohibited to most U.S. travelers since 1961] now has the same air of mystery -- people want to see what they've heard about." O'Malley said the first incentive groups that will visit will most likely arrive via cruise ship. "The major cruse lines have had contingency plans for the day Cuba opened; for incentive groups, going by cruise is the safest way, because participants can stay on the ship." He added, "We need to learn more about the infrastructure that's in place before large land-based meeting and incentive groups visit." He said none of the major hotel chains that Maritz works with have properties at this time in Cuba.