Cuba has become a popular travel destination as the U.S. administration began relaxing restrictions against the communist country last year. Though commercial airlines now travel to various cities in Cuba, Americans are still not permitted to engage in pure tourism activity in Cuba, under the modified terms of the 50-year-old embargo that remains in effect today.
Eric Norber, a Cuba travel specialist who for the past 26 years owned and operated Cultural Contrast, a company that creates specialty travel packages to the island, is expanding his business. Following the recent regulatory change allowing private aircraft to fly directly from the US to Cuba, Norber launched Cuba Handling, to focus on private aircraft flights to Cuba including unique, VIP itineraries.
Cuba Handling facilitates aircraft permits, flight logistics and passenger itineraries for those wishing to travel in their own or chartered aircraft. Cuba Handling delivers an exclusive and personalized Cuban experience.
“I fell in love with the spirit and culture of Cuba when I first visited in 1990 and created a business to allow legal cultural exchanges between Americans and Cubans,” says Norber. His company has organized hundreds of private tours to Cuba focused on religion, arts, theater, sports, culinary arts and even yoga.
Norber prides himself on arranging visits to off-the-beaten-path places most travelers would never see. “We create experiences—not just trips,” says Norber who has a well-developed inner circle of Cuban academics, artists, musicians, historians, business owners, legal and medical professionals who add cultural dimension to visitors’ fully licensed trips.
Norber, a career corporate jet pilot and a lifetime member of the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), was recently enlisted to assist with projects in Cuba by The Rolling Stones, NPR and PBS and other high profile clients.
Most recently he organized a turnkey VIP program in Cuba for the Board of Directors of a major U.S. aviation advocacy organization, which included the first recorded all-female crew to land a private aircraft in Cuba in at least 60 years, a surprise even for the Cuban aviation authorities. Norber will be a featured speaker at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in Orlando, Florida on November 2nd, 2016 on the topic of “Aviation Operations in Cuba,” and Cuba Handling is also listed as a resource on the AOPA Caribbean Destinations page.
“Cuba, while friendly and warm, is still a complicated destination for a private aircraft,” says Norber, “There are restrictions, bureaucracy, cultural innuendos and delicate situations to navigate that can make the difference between a delightful, memorable trip and one fraught with problems—both legal and logistical.
We ensure each of our clients has a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Cuba that they want to repeat and share with others.” Cuba Handling also offers the benefit of pre-paying for aircraft services and customized itineraries, avoiding the necessity of paying for those services in cash upon arrival in Cuba. U.S. based credit cards are generally not accepted in Cuba, and U.S. money must be exchanged into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) with a 13% service charge.
Since they are familiar with FAA, U.S. Treasury and U.S. State Department regulations, Norber and his dedicated staff of trip and itinerary planners in the U.S. and Cuba customize trips to include preferred areas of interest, time frames and specific lodging preferences, enabling travelers to truly experience the Cuban spirit. Cuba Handling facilitates all arrangements including visas, and provides a pre-trip briefing covering every aspect of a trip to Cuba ensuring easy, enjoyable and worry-free travel.
“While Americans are interested in traveling to Cuba, they are rightfully concerned about doing it correctly to avoid logistic or legal issues. Using our experience, Cuba Handling ‘handles’ everything so there are no concerns,” says Norber, “We want our clients to experience Cuba now, unspoiled by commercial tourism and in its emerging state. Cuba is really an experience not just a destination. We look forward to helping people experience it to its fullest–especially when flying by private aircraft.”