There’s nothing like a glass of bubbly to lend a festive air – especially when it’s handed to you as you board an airplane. No wonder the 140 travel agents and partners of Hola Sun were in a celebratory mood as they boarded flight N5 801.
Destination? As it said on the boarding passes: the “OWG Experience.”
The excited group were guests of the Cuban specialist tour operator and the carrier (“Off We Go”) as part of a celebration to mark the partnership between the two. Although the 40 minute flight was officially to no where, departing and returning to a private air terminal at YYZ, it’s clear that the two companies are going places together.
Since 30JUN, Montreal-based OWG has been operating from YUL and YYZ four times each per week to Holguin, Santa Maria, Veradero and Cayo Coco with a much-expanded roster planned for the high season.
“It’s wonderful to at last have control over our own air operations, including the ability to open new routes,” Hugo Rocha, Hola Sun's General Manager told Open Jaw.
OWG operates 8 B737-400s with a configuration of 189 seats. Its point of differentiation, and one that is key to the Cuban market as one agent told me, is that meals are included. And not just any meal: southbound and northbound there is a choice of 4 fresh meals, and a different selection in each direction, always including a vegetarian option. OWG also has snacks and liquor for sale, and, coming soon, inflight connectivity for $9. Flights include 1 free checked suitcase up to 23 kg, or 2 for longstays of 21 nights or longer.
Hola Sun features a whopping 190 hotels across the island including popular brands such as Iberostar and Meliá, informal and wallet-friendly longstay properties such as the Hola Club Rancho Luna in Cienfuegos, and Cuban Classics like the Iberostar Parque Central in Havana. Newer on the Cuban scene are LGBTQ-friendly hotels including the Gran Muthu Rainbow in Cayo Guillermo and the Axel Telegrafo in Havana.
Hola Sun also offers sun-and-city combos, tours, and even Casa Particulares, stays in private homes.
“In 2019, Cuba welcomed 1.1 million Canadians, by far our largest number by nationality,” Lessner Gomez Molina, Counselor in Tourism Affairs for the Consulate General of Cuba told me. “In winter we will have having flights from 11 cities across Canada, with over 100 flights weekly on OWG alone. And are hoping to get back to that million-plus mark again.”