Big jump seen in U.S. travel to Cuba in 2010

HAVANA (Reuters) – More than 1,000 travelers from the United States are arriving every day in Cuba on average, most of Cuban origin, making Havana’s long-time foe its second source of visitors after Canada, travel industry and diplomatic sources said Monday.

U.S. charter companies flying to the Communist-ruled island say business has boomed since President Barack Obama’s administration lifted restrictions last year on Cuban-Americans visiting their homeland, and also loosened curbs on academic, religious, cultural and other professional travel.

U.S. citizens are forbidden from traveling to Cuba without their government’s permission under a wide-ranging U.S. trade embargo on the island imposed nearly five decades ago.

“There is a huge increase this year compared with 2009,” said Armando Garcia, president of Marazul Charters, the oldest of a growing number of companies chartering flights to Cuba.

“Through October around 265,000 have traveled. November and December are the peak months, so we expect 330,000 will go to Cuba on direct flights from the United States this year,” Garcia said, speaking in a telephone interview from Miami.

Cuban tourism industry sources said more and more U.S. citizens or Cuba-bound travelers from the United States were also arriving through third countries such as Mexico and the Bahamas to get around the U.S. travel ban, avoid licensing hassles, or simply because it is the less expensive route.

There are no regular scheduled commercial flights between Cuba and the United States which lie less than an hour’s flight apart, separated by the Florida Straits.

“We estimate the total (visitors from the U.S. to Cuba) for the year will be more than 400,000,” a U.S. State Department source said, asking his name not be used due to restrictions on talking with journalists.


Cuba reported 2.4 million tourists arrived in 2009, with Canada the largest provider at close to 915,000, followed by Great Britain at 172,000 and Spain at 129,000.

The Cuban National Statistics Office ( reported that Canadian arrivals through October of this year had increased, while there was little change from Great Britain and a significant drop in Spanish tourism.

Cuba reported 52,455 arrivals from the United States in 2009, but those of Cuban origin were included under a wide separate category of “other.” Local tourism officials said 80,000 U.S. citizens came in 2008, including Cuban-Americans.

The official trade union weekly, Trabajadores, ran a front page article Monday on the expansion of the Havana airport terminal that receives U.S. flights, saying it would be completed by this Christmas and double capacity.

Marazul’s Garcia estimated U.S. travel to Cuba would increase another 30 percent in 2011.

Legislation that would have lifted entirely U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba died in Congress this year. Such initiatives will have even less chance of passage when a new Congress convenes in January, following the Republican Party’s success in the November mid-term elections.

Cuban-American Republican members of Congress are fierce and vocal opponents of opening up more U.S. travel to Cuba, saying there should be no relaxation without political change and human rights improvements on the island.

Advocates of more freedom to travel to Cuba hope the Obama administration will at least further loosen remaining restrictions, opening up more so-called ‘people to people’ contact visits that would favor sports, cultural, artistic, academic and religious exchanges.


Cuba tourism inches up despite global economy

HAVANA  AP– Cuba says tourism on the island has inched up during the first nine months of 2010, with both revenue and the number of visitors climbing despite global economic weakness.

Revenue through September was $1.3 billion, up 3.5 percent from the $1.26 billion reported over the same period last year. The number of tourists also increased during the period, up about 50,000 to 1.89 million through September.

Canada remains the country that sends most tourists to the island — with 733,000 in the first nine months of 2010 — followed by Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany. U.S. tourists are effectively barred from coming to Cuba, and Washington has maintained a 48-year trade embargo on the island.

Tourism and nickel production are Cuba’s main sources of income. The country is in the midst of a deep economic downturn. Communist leaders are in the process of revamping the economy, injecting a measure of free market capitalism into the state-dominated system.

Spanish Travel Agents Meet in Cuba

Oct 24 (Prensa Latina) Inspired by the growing spiral of Cuban tourism, the Spanish National Travel Agents Association (AEDAVE) announced on Sunday that it would hold its 21st congress in several Cuban cities.

The event will be held from October 26 to November 1 in Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo and the Guardalavaca beach resort in Holguin, all in eastern Cuba, according to a press release from the Cuban Tourism Ministry.

The note said that more than 150 travel agents, guests and personalities from the Spanish tourism market had confirmed their attendance at the congress, which includes professional seminars on October 27 at the Santiago de Cuba Melia Hotel.

The top leaders of AEDAVE will attend, as will personalities of the world of tourism, and participants will learn directly about the potential of eastern Cuba as a tourist destination.

It is the second time Cuba will host an AEDAVE congress, taking into account the importance of the Spanish market for the development of the Cuban tourism industry, the Tourism Ministry press release said.

U.S. approvals of Cuba travel providers make big jump

The U.S. agency that enforces Cuba sanctions approved 42 new travel and other service providers this year, compared to none in 2009, in what government officials described as a push sparked by changes in the Obama administration policy and the bureaucracy.

Cuba Readies for U.S. Tourists With Luxury Hotels

March 26 (Bloomberg) — Cuba’s hotels could manage a sudden influx of 1 million American tourists if the U.S. Congress lifts its 47-year ban on travel to the Communist island, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.

Additionally, the Caribbean nation is set to expand its capacity of about 50,000 rooms, with groundbreaking scheduled for at least nine hotels in 2010, Marrero said. About 200,000 rooms may be added in the “medium to long-term,” he said. Cuba is also seeking investment partners for 10 golf courses and luxury hotels aimed at Americans, according to a ministry official.

“I’m convinced that today, with the available capacity, we could be receiving the American tourists without any problem,” Marrero said in an interview yesterday in Cancun, Mexico where he was attending a conference of 40 American and Cuban tourist industry representatives.

The tourism industry meeting comes as the U.S. Congress considers a law that would lift the ban on travel to Cuba. Senator Byron Dorgan, one of 38 co-sponsors of the bill, said he has 60 votes lined up to win passage of the measure this summer. Similar legislation introduced in the House has 178 co-sponsors and needs 218 votes to pass if all 435 members vote.

“This is a 50 year-old failed policy,” Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, told the meeting yesterday in a phone call from Washington. “Punishing Americans by restricting their right to travel just makes no sense at all.”

‘New Era’

President Barack Obama said March 24 that he’s seeking a “new era” in relations with Cuba even as he denounced “deeply disturbing” human rights violations by its government. He did not say where he stands on lifting the travel ban.

Obama last year ended restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and transferring money to relatives back home. The U.S. State Department has also held talks in Havana with Cuban officials about restoring mail service and cooperation on migration issues.

Tourism to Cuba increased 3.5 percent amid the global financial crisis to 2.4 million visitors last year, with 900,000 visitors from Canada leading the way, Jose Manuel Bisbe, commercial director for the Tourism Ministry, said in an interview this week in Havana.

Bisbe expects foreign arrivals to grow by a similar amount this year. If the U.S. travel ban is lifted, hotels won’t be overburdened because Americans will visit year-round and face capacity problems only during the winter high season when occupancy reaches 85 percent, he said.

‘Forbidden City’

“Havana has been the forbidden city for so long that it will be a boom destination even in the low season,” said Bisbe, who estimates Cuba will add another 10,000 hotel rooms in the next two or three years.

Daniel Garcia, who has sold tourists used books in Old Havana since 1994, said more Americans would be good for business.

“The gringos can’t help but spend their money,” Garcia, 43, said at his stand in front of the neo-classical building that housed the U.S. Embassy before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. “They are the easiest tourists to sell to. They never ask for discounts.”

Marrero said the government can’t finance development of tourist infrastructure on its own so it’s scouting for foreign partners such as Majorca, Spain-based Sol Melia SA, which already manages 24 hotels on the Communist island.

“The Cubans have provided us with a fairly complete picture of their tourism product and future opportunities for U.S. businesses to work in this market,” Lisa Simon, president of the Lexington, Kentucky-based National Tour Association, said in an e-mailed statement. “We look forward to a follow up conference next year in Cuba, should the legislation pending in Congress be approved.” – Luxury villa for rent in Havana, Cuba

Cuba turns its back on foreign travel agencies in Cuba concerning Cuban Americans

TheCubaBlog:  Ever so quietly the Cuban government began a campaign to lock foreign travel agencies registered inside and outside Cuba out of the lucrative Cuban American travel market. From early November agencies reported abruptly canceled services for clients arriving in Havana´s terminal 2. Initially the motive was that their receptive agents in Cuba, the likes of CubaTUR, Cubanacan or Ecotur could not provide services in terminal 2 anymore and thus all bookings were cancelled. Some enterprising agents quickly began confirming services for Cuban Americans in terminal 3 and advising their clients to simply take the short jaunt between the two airports by taxi or on foot. This scheme, apparently not considered by the Cuban authorities, was quickly scuttled when a later “orientation” was transmitted by Ministry of tourism officials that “no services sold by a foreign agency would be honored if the tourist holds a U.S passport”. A UK agency owner based in Old Havana since 1999 said “this is highly ironic; many of us who have been here for years trying to make ends meet assisting the Cuban tourism ministry in increasing numbers of individual tourism (more difficult to promote than the mass package deals sold from Canada and Europe) were waiting in anticipation of increased sales from the newly relaxed laws on Cuban American travel by the Obama administration and now we´ve been shut out”

It is thought that the bigger picture is that, in fact, the Cuban government wants the Cuban American market for themselves and, by shutting out travel companies from making bookings or pre-reserving services, Cuban Americans would be forced to pay in Cash (credit cards or wire transfers from US banks are banned from use in Cuba) in Cuba and thus directly into government coffers.

This is yet another sign that the Cuban government holds little if any regard for the companies and agencies that have assisted the island to slowly increase tourism numbers from the low 100´s of thousand in the early 90´s to today’s 2+ million and that, at any opportunity, they´ll restrict sales in sectors to shut out collaborators in favor of direct income.

This latest move by the government is being watched closely by Canada´s Transat, one of Canada´s largest operators, who package holidays for over 200,000 Canadian’s each year to Cuba. One person who works for the company but requested not to be named said: “we´re watching their moves on this issue, we´ve already seen that they are promoting direct hotel bookings and car rental services on their government webpage and, at the beginning of the year, some Cuban run hotels from Cubanacan were publicizing a direct reservation portal for their hotel rooms to our travelers. The issue of governments trying to set up and run their own travel businesses to shut out major operators is a rather Taboo subject in the industry and, is not taken lightly. Cuba needs to understand that the Caribbean is a big place”

It remains to be seen if tourism officials will reverse this action or whether it’s a taste of things to come. It is already known that in the late 90´s, the government toyed with the idea of setting up a proprietary reservation network but quickly cancelled the venture when international operators began to question them on the issue.

Could they now think it’s time? – Travel to Cuba

U.S. Travel to Cuba May Open up

Since the 1960s, by US law, they have been off limits to American citizens.

But, on Capitol Hill this week — debate over whether to lift the travel ban to the Communist-ruled island.

Democratic Congressman Howard Berman is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

[Congressman Howard Berman, Democrat, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman]:

“Lifting the travel ban will benefit both U.S. and Cuban citizens. We need to let Americans be beacons of hope, they will bring freedom with them, let thousands of American visitors chip away at the Castro information monopoly with thousands of small cuts”

The United States has restricted trade with Cuba in what started as a Cold War policy to isolate former Cuban President Fidel Castro. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to “recast” ties with Havana and has tried to take steps to ease the embargo.

Some Congressional Republicans argue sending U.S. tourists’ dollars to Cuba would only finance the regime.

Republican Congressman Dan Burton.

[Dan Burton, Republican Congressman]:

“We shouldn’t send any money down there, not a dime, except maybe for humanitarian purposes, until this regime is removed, they need democracy in Cuba.”

The debate came a day after Human Rights Watch released a report saying current President Raul Castro was crushing dissent like his brother Fidel.

Late Thursday, remarks by Obama appeared on the blog of dissident Cuban Yoani Sanchez.

Asked if he would be willing to travel to Cuba, Obama said he would never rule out a course of action that could advance the interests of the U.S. and the cause of freedom for the Cuban people. – Cuba vacation rental