Those most interested in visiting Cuba live in places you might not expect.
A survey of Google searches between March 1, 2015 and Feb. 29, 2016 reveals that travelers from New England surpass those from Florida in Google searches about Cuba travel.
According to data compiled by digital-marketing company iQuanti, the northeastern states of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island top the list with the most searches per capita of terms related to Cuba travel. Florida, home to more than half of the country’s Cuban-American population, comes in seventh on that list.
Based on the number of searches alone, California tops the list, followed by Texas and Florida.
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More than 7 million searches were made using 650 keywords relating to Cuba travel. Meanwhile, travel to the island rose by 77 percent in 2015, with 161,000 Americans visiting Cuba — not counting Cuban-Americans.
“What a lot of Americans are [saying] is, ‘Oh, the opening up between the U.S. and Cuba, next thing you know there is going to be Starbucks and McDonald’s and there is going to be a gentrification of the island,’ ” said Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, the first U.S. travel company to legally take Americans to Cuba on people-to-people tours in 2000.
Popper said that bookings through the insightCuba website have doubled since December 2014, when President Barack Obama announced a loosening of business and travel restrictions between U.S. and Cuba. Web traffic to his site has quadrupled, Popper said.
All of these watershed moments create a greater sense of awareness [on Cuba].
Tom Popper, president of insightCuba
Collin Laverty, president of Washington-based Cuba Educational Travel, said his company also has seen the greatest interest from the Northeast and California.
Laverty’s clients mirror the Google search results, with travelers from Massachusetts, California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida comprising the majority.
Popper, too, said that the New York metropolitan area, California, Florida, Chicago, and Texas have historically been the most interested populations, both because of the amount of travelers who originate in those regions as well as their desire to learn more about Cuba.
Florida, he said, makes the list thanks to its large retirement population, which is the age group that books the majority of people-to-people trips through his organization. Cuban Americans still comprise the majority of travelers to Cuba but through a family visa unavailable to other Americans.
People-to-people visits, or cultural-immersion trips, are one of the 12 authorized visa categories for visits to the island — and the most popular for Americans hoping to travel to Cuba. They usually involve small groups, but thanks to recent policy changes, can be just one individual visiting the island for cultural-exchange purposes. Still, no beach lounging allowed.
Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island had the most Google searches for Cuba travel per capita. Florida was seventh.
Two cruise lines, Miami-based Fathom, part of Carnival Corporation, and French luxury line Ponant, reached agreements with the Cuban government to take Americans on cruises around the island through people-to-people tours. Cuban-born Americans cannot visit the island by sea, according to Cuban law.
The agreements were finalized in late March and early April, after the data was compiled. Still, major developments between Cuba and the U.S. during the time period surveyed are reflected in spikes in search data surrounding visits to Cuba.
According to the data compiled by iQuanti, searches for Cuba spiked in the last year in July 2015, when embassies opened in Cuba and the U.S., and in January when airlines began applying to fly commercial flights between the two countries.
Popper said each development legitimizes the traveler’s desire to visit Cuba.
“Every time there is a positive news cycle that represents a greater change then there is a larger sector of the U.S. public that says, ‘OK, now I’m going to go to Cuba,’ ” he said.