Saturday, November 29, 2008

Arthur Frommer Predicts More Travel to Cuba

By Arthur Frommer

Published: Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 29, 2008 at 9:15 p.m.

It's obvious that the new president-elect will have more urgent matters than travel on his agenda. But after dealing with the economic crisis, Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran, health care, energy, education and more, he may have time for one or two lesser matters affecting the travel industry. Here, without partisan comment either pro or con, are the ways in which Barack Obama may affect the world of travel:

Greater support for Amtrak. The president-elect has supported larger appropriations for operating and expanding Amtrak, while his adversary, Sen. John McCain, was well-known for opposing that federal support. In addition, the Senate's most active opponent of Amtrak - Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire - was defeated for re-election, and there's no doubt that a far more favorable environment now exists for improving and expanding Amtrak.

In the campaign, Obama also favored creation of a National Infrastructure Bank for funding such initiatives as reviving the many hundreds of miles of abandoned railroad tracks, which would restore rail service to such cities as Nashville, Tenn. and Las Vegas. Though a primary purpose of that bank was to create jobs, the dividends to our travel facilities are obvious.

Support for the Travel

Promotion Act. Numerous members of Congress have endorsed a major program to establish an advertising and marketing medium for encouraging foreign travel to the United States, and Barack Obama was one of the early signatories of that legislation. Sen. McCain opposed such use of federal power, and now there is no doubt that a nationally supported organization for promoting travel to the U.S. will be launched.

Easing of restrictions on travel by Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba. Though the overall travel embargo on Cuba probably will be maintained, at least on paper if not in practice, there undoubtedly will be new regulations increasing the frequency by which Cuban-Americans can visit their relatives and raising the amount of money they can spend there. This was a major issue in South Florida during the campaign, and Sen. Obama went strongly on record as permitting greater travel there by Cuban-Americans. As to Cuban travel by the rest of us (and despite statements by President-elect Obama that he does not support ending the embargo quite yet), it's predicted by many that the federal government will no longer be eager to enforce those restrictions on leisure travel, and the situation will revert to what it was several years ago: A steady traffic there by Americans flying quietly into Havana from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico.

Major improvements in the air traffic control system: A constant emphasis was directed by candidate Obama to the need for greatly increased funding of air traffic control systems (and candidate McCain advocated the same). The new administration apparently will propose appropriating several billions of dollars to measures that should reduce delays and improve safety.

An increase in the number of foreign visitors able to come here without visas: Up until now, it was mainly citizens of Westernmost Europe (Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc.) who were allowed to visit the U.S. without first obtaining expensive visas. During the campaign, Sen. Obama suggested adding several other major countries to the visa-free list: Brazil, South Korea, Greece and others. Many observers predict that this may reverse the present downward trend of tourism to the United States.

[ Arthur Frommer is a travel guide, author and columnist. ]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

50th Anniversary Tour

Cuba Selling Tickets to Celebrate Revolution's 50th Anniversary
Fidel Castro's birthplace and the grave of Che Guevara are the hot places to be

HAVANA -- The 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, which will be celebrated next Jan. 1, is the main theme of a tourism package being sold by Cuban and Argentine travel agencies including visits to sites such as Fidel Castro's birthplace and the mausoleum of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, organizers announced Tuesday.

The business manager of Cuba's Ecotur travel agency, Marlene Martinez, told Efe that the plan is a program with "social and political content" that will permit tourists to learn about the history of the island and "have an experience that won't be repeated, that is to say the 50th anniversary of the revolution."

Martinez said that the original idea for the travel package came from Argentine travel agency Carimar, which promotes the package directed at tourists from that country, but it does not exclude travelers from other Latin American nations from taking advantage of it.

Organizers forcast that some 150 tourists will purchase the plan and visit the island between Dec. 23-Jan. 3.

The itinerary begins in Havana and includes visits to the mausoleum where the remains of Argentine-born Che Guevara rest, in the central city of Santa Clara, and to the house where the Castros lived when Fidel was born, in the eastern town of Biran.

The visitors will also get to know the site where the yacht Granma landed in 1956 from Mexico carrying Cuban revolutionaries, an event marking the start of Castro's revolution.

Visitors will also travel to other spots linked with the armed struggle against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and also will spend two days at a beach for a little pure fun and relaxation.

Wrapping up the trip will be the festivities in Santiago de Cuba marking the half-century anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, revolution. EFE

Monday, November 10, 2008

Executive Authority to Modify Travel Restrictions

Upon taking office, the Obama Administration can use its executive authority to the extent permitted by law to suspend most but not all of the limits on freedom of travel by Americans.

As a first step the new Secretary of the Treasury can instruct the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to establish general licenses for all non-tourist travel to Cuba as codified in 2000 (see below). The registration and costly reporting requirements of Travel Service Providers (TSP) can be abolished, enabling any US travel agent to book flights and accommodations for individuals and organizations entitled to general licenses.

Still prohibited, according to the law and regulations, would only be "tourist activities" which simply "means any activity with respect to travel to, from, or within Cuba that is not expressly authorized" by the codified categories. Beach resort packages, conventional cruise line itineraries, and other large scale commercial tourism, the principal potential sources of revenue to Cuba, will remain out of bounds.

OFAC's oversight and enforcement role regarding travel must be limited by the Secretary of the Treasury to providing information about the twelve authorized categories, the nature of a general license, and remaining restrictions on “tourist activities”, thus redeploying staff energies to real national security concerns. (Bush regulations should also be revoked that misuse customs agents to search for and confiscate personal goods and souvenirs brought from Cuba.)

Virtually any American with a serious interest will be immediately free to go to Cuba legally. Not-for-profit organizations, educational and cultural institutions, professional and trade associations, humanitarian and religious groups, businesses, Cuban Americans, and other motivated persons will be able to undertake, without politically motivated obstruction, any kind of visit that does not fall within the limited definition of “tourist activities”.

The categories codified in 2000 entitled to a specific or general (self-qualifying) license are:

(1) Family visits

(2) Official business

(3) Journalistic activity

(4) Professional research

(5) Educational activities

(6) Religious activities

(7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and


(8) Support for the Cuban people

(9) Humanitarian projects

(10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

(11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials

(12) Certain export transactions

Categories 4 to 9 offer particularly broad interpretation. “Educational activities” had already, under pre-2004 OFAC licensing, come to mean a wide range of people-to-people exchanges. The benefit of a general license is that no bureaucratic delay or partisan vetting is possible because prior approval and post-trip reporting are not required. Even if OFAC retained redundant Cuba staff with Bush era political agendas, second guessing of general license use is impractical except in the case of flagrant public disregard of the non-tourist prohibition, e.g. commercial promotion of a holiday at a beach resort or conventional cruise line itineraries.