Captivating Cuba failure disclosed by Civil Aviation Authority

Specialist operator Captivating Cuba has ceased trading as an Atol holder after being in business for more than 25 years.

The Civil Aviation Authority disclosed that the company, based in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, failed on Friday.

The operator’s website was still functioning early today with no indication of a problem but its phone line was not accepting calls.

Confirming the failure, the CAA said: “The company based in Hertfordshire traded under the website

“We are currently collating information from the company and will update this page as soon as possible.

“Whilst waiting for further information, please do not submit a claim as these will be rejected.”

The regulator added: “If you are a travel agent of Captivating Cuba and you are currently holding consumer payments which you have not yet paid to Captivating Cuba, you must not use these funds to refund consumers until you have received instructions from the Air Travel Trust.  

“Travel agents will be individually contacted by the Civil Aviation Authority with specific instructions for these bookings.”

The authority warned: “Person(s) who make fraudulent Atol claims, following the failure of an Atol holder, may be prosecuted by the UK CAA for offences under section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006. The maximum sentence for this offence is 10 years’ imprisonment.”

The Specialist Travel Association (Aito), of which Capitvating Cuba was a member, said the failure was due to factors including the difficulties of operating to Cuba; reduced capacity to the destination; and the Covid pandemic.

Chairman Chris Rowles, who wished staff at the operator “the very best at this hugely difficult time”, said: “The loss of Captivating Cuba is of course hugely regrettable.

“A significant factor in the company’s demise is the complexities when operating in Cuba, as well as the recent loss of summer 2024 air capacity, as a result of Tui’s cancellation of its direct flight – the only such direct flight from the UK to Cuba.

“Another factor is doubtless the effects of the pandemic, which caused enormous challenges for all tour operators. However, the vast majority of Aito specialist tour operator members have rebounded very strongly since travel reopened, and as seen from the latest Aito Travel Insights Survey, business in the specialist sector remains robust.”

He called on the government to recognise the value UK outbound tour operators brought to the economy.

“The sector is largely made up of SMEs who have been ignored during the plight of the pandemic. We therefore ask the government to ensure our views are heard when considering regulatory changes or financial support to the industry, to ensure we go from strength to strength,” he said.

Captivating Cuba director Matthew O’Sullivan insisted in December that it was “business as usual” for the operator after Tui confirmed it was dropping direct flights from Manchester to Varadero in Cuba at the end of April.

He said at the time: “We’ve worked solely with Cuba for more than 25 years as a dedicated specialist and have seen many UK airlines and travel companies come and go, but travel demand for the island always remains high and enthusiasm from our customers hasn’t wavered. It’s business as usual.”

The Aito member operator is owned by Hovis Travel Group, which reported a loss of £162,365 for the year to March 2023 compared with £126,686 in the previous 12 months, according to accounts filed at Companies House in December. It had net liabilities of £222,035. 

The financial statement said: “The director has pledged to continue to financially support the company for the foreseeable future.”

Captivating Cuba described itself on its website as “a totally independent and fully Atol bonded boutique specialist tour operator, with more than 30 years’ experience providing high-quality tailormade travel to Cuba and beyond. 

“Our offices are based in Hertfordshire, UK and Havana, Cuba and we also have our own staff based in France and Spain, and throughout Cuba.

“We have all been to Cuba, experienced at first hand the places, tours and restaurants that we recommend and have extensively travelled around the island. 

“Our team have tons of think-outside-the-box creative ideas to make every holiday completely individual, plus we focus on the little details that are important to you.

“We are experienced and large enough to have our own Havana office and staff throughout Cuba, but we are small enough to know our customers and travel agents individually by name and spend time on each booking fine tuning the details and adding our special touches. 

“We are very lucky to receive our business mainly through word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat business from the fantastic independent travel agents who work with us.”

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