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Cuba Media Day in Time for Action


By Jorge Coromina Sánchez (Caribbean News Digital)
Representatives from prominent U.S. travel agencies, tour operators, airlines an

Representatives from prominent U.S. travel agencies, tour operators, airlines and cruises companies, gathered Monday at the Meliá Cohiba Hotel in Havana to hold the Cuba Media Day, a one-day event aimed at underscoring Cuba’s position as a safe travel destination for American visitors.

The timing couldn’t be any timelier. Cuba has just grabbed the 2017 Excelencias Award in FITUR –the International Tourism Fair in Madrid, Spain- as the world’s safest travel destination. The awards are presented every year within the framework of the FITUR fair by the Excelencias Group, and this time around Cuba was the recipient of the top honor, which was handed over to Cuba’s Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz by the Excelencias Group President and CEO, Jose Carlos de Santiago.

Cuba Media Day –organized by InsightCuba’s President Tom Popper and Marketing Manager Lauren Vikander- put actual facts on the table for a great turnout of U.S. journalists and several news media organizations from other countries that attended this major informational event.

Jose Manuel Bisbe York, President of the Viajes Cuba Division of the island nation’s Ministry of Tourism, took the floor first to explain how Cuba is continuing to put its smart money on its travel industry and is preparing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate U.S. tourists once the travel ban on the island nation is finally lifted.

“This meeting is a clear demonstration of your support to Cuba travel from the United States. Despite the aftermath of hurricane Irma and the unfortunate decision made by the U.S. against Cuba, our country has continued to develop its travel industry and show off its strength,” said Mr. Bisbe York during his presentation.

Many of the companies that attended the Cuba Media Day got an unexpected windfall in December 2014 when former U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro stunned the world with their decision to resume diplomatic ties between the two nations that had been severed since 1961, during the JFK administration.

For little more than three years, Washington and Havana enjoyed a well-deserved rapprochement, which included the opening of regular flights operated by U.S. airlines, the start of cruise trips between America and Cuba, and even the opening of the first American hotel in Havana in more than fifty years.

But in June last year, President Donald Trump rolled back part of the headway the two countries had made since 2014, and with the sole exception of cruise lines, most U.S. travel agencies, tour operators and airlines are facing tough consequences.

“The travel warning issued by the Trump administration as a result of the alleged sonic attacks against U.S. citizens in Cuba unfortunately had grueling effect on travel to Cuba,” said Tom Popper during his opening remarks to the audience. “But today, we have gathered here to support reality and underline the fact that Cuba is a safe and welcoming destination for U.S. travelers,” he went on to say.

Mr. Popper, who moderated the panel, shared the stage with Lindsey Frank, an attorney with the RBSKL Law Firm; USTOA (United States Tour Operator Association) president and CEO, Terry Dale; Martha Pantin, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications with American Airlines, and Group IST President Michael Goren.

For the Cuban part, the panel was presided over by Jose Manuel Bisbe York, President of Viajes Cuba at the Ministry of Tourism of Cuba. Other members were Deputy Director of Meliá Cuba, Francisco Camps; Yohanka Rodriguez, General Manager of Viajes Amistur travel agency; Orlando Ramos, President of the San Cristobal travel agency, as well as Juan Carlos Lopez and Freddie Andersen, tasked with Meliá Cuba’s Hotel Growth Division.

In addition to many of the local news groups that were in attendance, the journalistic turnout included several top media organizations from the U.S., such as the Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Condé Nast Traveler, The Miami Herald and Travel Weekly.

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