Flights price war spells trouble for commercial flights to Cuba
A whole range of new commercial flights to Cuba are painting a positive picture for travellers wishing to explore the island, with plenty of low cost tickets on offer as firms compete for business. However, an expected price war spells trouble for many charter airlines, who fear they just won't be able to compete with reduced prices.
Tampa to Havana airfares set to halve with first commercial flights ready for take off, according to a report in Tampa Bay Times. The future of charter flights between the US and Cuba look in doubt with commercial airlines set to resume services connecting the two countries for the first time in more than half a century.
Since President Obama relaxed travel restrictions to the island in 2011, there has been a steady growth in charter flights between Tampa and Cuba, with more than 71,000 passengers making the trip in 2015 alone. During this time the number of services has grown from two each week to nine during peak season.
However with commercial flights likely to begin operating, tour operators are beginning to withdraw from the market fearing that they will not be able to compete with major carriers' lower prices.
While prices for the route are yet to be announced, Miami-based Havana Consulting Group recently predicted that that commercial airlines could offer tickets from South Florida to Havana for as little as $150 to $250. This compares to charter flights which can cost more $400 for the same trip.
Routes to other Cuban cities could prove to be even better value too, with JetBlue claiming they will operate flights between Fort Lauderdale and Santa Clara, Camaguey and Holguin from as little as $99. The good news for those wishing to make the journey doesn't end there either, as unlike charter flights commercial services will be able to offer baggage transfer and frequent flyer miles to customers.
Charter flight companies are scaling back their schedules but taking the opportunity to diversify in to other areas, such as organising visas for travellers, with tourism in Cuba set to grow exponentially over the next few years. Frank Reno, president of Cuba Executive Travel based in Tampa, agrees that the market for charter flights may not be around for much longer. He explained:
"It comes down to competition. From the day we learned the big carriers would service Cuba, the question was whether the charters could keep up from a pure economic standpoint and if enough people want to go to Cuba that both are needed, if the answer to both is no, I think the charters unfortunately will be gone."
Tessie Aral of ABC Charters declared:
"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. We'll just go with the flow and make the needed business adjustments."
She agreed that time may be up for charter services in the coming months, but refused to be negative about the outlook for the industry as a whole, with increasing opportunities for companies to offer other travel services such as hotels, meals and trips.
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