Booking Caribbean Trips Becomes a Headache for Travel Agents
Last-minute cancellations of trips to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, coupled with the Trump Administration’s abrupt policy change toward Cuba, have made travel agents scratch their heads about how to find alternatives for their customers.
Since early June travel advisors have been dealing with fallout from the highly publicized tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic and a policy change from the Trump administration, which immediately stopped cruise ships from sailing to Cuba. In July travel to Puerto Rico took a hit from massive protests calling for the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
Flights booked in June to the Dominican Republic from the U.S. for July and August fell 59 percent compared to the same period last year, according to ForwardKeys, a travel research company that analyzes millions of flight bookings a day.
Travel to Puerto Rico has not seen as drastic a drop during the protests this summer, but travel advisors told Skift that clients with trips planned there have expressed concerns.
Hale said he has not had any cancellations to the island but has received calls from travelers seeking reassurance before their trips.
“We definitely get those questions,” he said. “We get the calls coming in. ‘Is it safe to still travel there? What are you hearing of the realities on the ground?’”
Thomas Carpenter, co-founder of Huckleberry Travel, said the protests have actually been positive for client interest in Puerto Rico as they are drawing attention back to the island, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria.
The abrupt halt of cruise travel to Cuba was a big shock for Huckleberry Travel, which has focused a lot of attention on the destination over the past two years because of client interest. The agency spent a large chunk of its research budget last year by traveling to Cuba, Carpenter said.
“It really was overnight,” he said. “We had just booked clients on a region cruise where the entire itinerary was Cuba. It was a really beautiful itinerary with multiple stops.”
Some of the agency’s Cuba-bound clients have decided to travel to destinations such as Italy and Peru instead, Carpenter said.
“We lost some high-value cruise business. We will replace it with something else, but certainly the larger corporations that are running the cruise companies and resort chains are affected by it,” he said.
Although some airlines and most of the cruises affected have been generous in their refund and cancellation policies, the key for these travelers has been purchasing comprehensive travel insurance ahead of time, advisors say.
“It really makes all the difference,” Carpenter said.
Delta and JetBlue have allowed clients to change or cancel their flights to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for no cost or airline credit due to the recent events there.