Last May, RCI (which is part of Wyndham Worldwide) became the first timeshare exchange network to offer vacation packages to Cuba. The five- and seven-night people-to-people education tours were initially only available to RCI Platinum members, but have since opened to all of the company’s members. Here, Eugenio Macouzet, managing director of RCI’s Caribbean business, who is also attending this week’s inaugural SAHIC Cuba conference, talks to HOTEL MANAGEMENT about the company’s Cuba offerings as well as his take on American leisure travel to the country.
What is your outlook for Cuba opening to U.S. leisure travelers?
The volume of international visitors to Cuba has continued to grow every year. We are optimistic that as more Americans travel to Cuba under one of the 12 permitted categories of licensed travel, the word will continue spreading. The forecast is for continued positive growth, and it could grow even faster if the current U.S. travel restrictions lessen in the future.
How has the Cuban tour package for RCI Platinum members fared since it launched last May? Are there plans to expand the package or the offer to other tiers of RCI membership?
The current Cuba offering provides access to unique “people-to-people” educational tours packages. “People-to-people” travel is one of the educational activities that are approved forms of travel for Americans visiting Cuba. There are two customized itineraries available. Travelers can book five-night and seven-night packages to experience educational activities in Havana and Varadero, and are provided with assistance with travel documents and license requirements.
Meeting the “people-to-people” requirements, the itineraries bring travelers to important historical and cultural sites, providing great opportunities to interact with the Cuban people, including visits to Revolution Square, the studio of famous artist José Rodríguez Fuster, Ernest Hemingway’s museum at Finca Vigia, local farms and sugar cane fields, the marina at Cayo Blanco and more. Travelers enjoy further insight into Cuban culture through a taste of Cuban cuisine and interactions with dance instructors, musicians and local guides.
When we first launched these itineraries, they were only available to RCI Platinum members, and there was significant interest in the trips. We have since opened up this option to all RCI members. Overall, our promotion of a people-to-people educational exchange package in coordination with Cuba Travel Services has been received positively, with a large amount of interest and great reviews from those who have already traveled. We are very excited to have a program that RCI members can take advantage of to travel to Cuba, and expanding the opportunity to all RCI members was a big step.
What does RCI hope to achieve at SAHIC Cuba this week?
Our main objective is to continue building the relationships with the different parties involved in the RCI people-to-people educational authorized packages. SAHIC provides a very good framework to have professional meetings and learn more about this beautiful country’s plans to keep up with the growing demand and especially how they are planning to meet the service and product expectations of American visitors.
While there will be a large focus on Cuba, we are also interested in continuing to build our relationships and learn the latest on what’s happening in the rest of the Caribbean region. This is a region of importance for RCI, and one we have continued to focus on with affiliations in popular travel destinations like Jamaica, St. Lucia and the Bahamas. The amazing beaches, top-notch watersport experiences and incredible services offered by resorts in this region make them immensely popular for RCI members.
You’re attending the conference with The Registry Collection’s global VP Gregg Anderson. Could you comment on Cuba’s luxury product?
Cuba is a big country with a wide variety of natural and cultural opportunities. Even though the current luxury product supply is very limited, as with any other market with these types of beauty and culture, you can expect that as new hotel development continues there will eventually be more supply for the luxury visitors. Once there is infrastructure in place to cater to the luxury travelers, it could be a popular choice for a destination with educational components.
Travelers have come back reporting positive reactions to many of the cultural immersion and educational activities provided, so there’s reason to believe luxury travelers will have the same experience. With the large amount of interest around travel to Cuba, we expect the luxury traveler would enjoy learning more through in-person experiences. Even within the current 12 permitted categories of travel for Americans, there is a market of luxury travelers that are willing to pay the additional money for the experience.