Easing of Cuba travel restrictions opens door to more U.S. visits

USA Today: President Obama recently announced plans to let student, church and cultural groups legally visit Cuba. And while falling short of now-stalled legislation that would have lifted a nearly five decade-old travel ban, it could pave the way for more U.S. tourism to the communist country.

Obama eased restrictions on U.S. travel, visas and remittance of money from Americans to Cubans last Friday, and the orders are expected to take effect within two weeks. The actions still preclude trips by ordinary tourists who now slip in illegally via Canada, Mexico and other Caribbean countries. An estimated 400,000 U.S. citizens (including legal Cuban Americans) traveled to the island last year. That’s five times more than in 2008, the year before the Obama administration lifted travel restrictions for those with family on the island, and a number not seen since before the Cuban revolution, reports NPR.

But the new measures “more or less return things to where they were under the Clinton administration, with the addition of exciting new openings,” says Cuba travel expert Christopher P. Baker, author of the guidebook Moon Cuba.

“Academics and students have been unshackled to travel to Cuba more freely. But the changes also potentially open the door for every U.S. citizen to legally travel to Cuba as a participant in cultural programs, (and) the licensing process should be much more friendly,” says Baker.

“I anticipate a surge in applications by a broad range of travel companies and cultural organizations for licenses to operate cultural tours that involve interactions with Cubans,” he adds. “In the Clinton era, this included everything from bicycling to ornithology groups and… well, you name it. In fact, my first visit to Havana, in 1993, was as a participant in a tour to the Havana International Jazz Festival licensed under the ‘people-to-people provision.'”

At a U.S.-Cuba Travel Summit in Cancun last spring, executives of such companies as Tauck, Isram, and Travel Impressions “all expressed interest in operating cultural tours,” Baker says.

While a White House statement pointed out that it is maintaining the economic embargo against Cuba instituted in 1962, it said the new measures “will increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.”

Among the changes: More U.S. airports will be allowed to offer charter flights to serve delegations that travel to Cuba under the expanded rules.

“For the U.S. travel sector, this will undoubtedly open new routes and new revenues for charters and other businesses that provide services for Americans visiting the Cuban market,” says Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. “At a time when Cubans are changing their system in fundamental ways, it is a good idea to have greater engagement, more Americans traveling to Cuba, and more opportunities to learn from each other as everyday Cubans reshape their lives and their country.”

But the new policies are being criticized by some Cuban-Americans, including new U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“It is unthinkable that the administration would enable the enrichment of a Cuban regime that routinely violates the basic human rights and dignity of its people,” says Rubio, born in Miami to Cuban-American parents who had fled Fidel Castro’s regime.



About Particular Cuba
Particular Cuba organizes travel to Cuba. Hotel booking, car rental, package tours, excursions, flights to Cuba.

One Response to Easing of Cuba travel restrictions opens door to more U.S. visits

  1. Pingback: America’s Silent Killer: 48.5 Million Americans Lost

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