Bullish on Cuba

Cruise ships are likely to bring the first group visitors

Cuba urban landscape

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties and the easing of some travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba has the incentive industry excited about the nation's potential as a new group destination. However, experts don't expect groups to arrive there for a couple of years.

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."

Steve O'Malley, division president of St. Louis-based Maritz Travel, 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. The ability to visit Cuba [prohibited to most U.S. travelers since 1961] now has the same air of mystery."

O'Malley said the first incentive groups that will visit most likely will 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.

The first measures to ease sanctions went into effect Jan. 16, allowing certain U.S. exports and expanding travel to the island by Americans for specific reasons, such as family, education and religion.