Thursday, December 31, 2009

Multi-destination tourism--Perspective from Cayman Net News

Editorial: The return of Americans to Cuba

Published on Tuesday, December 29, 2009 Email To Friend Print Version

A recent Reuters news report was headlined: “US travel industry gearing up for return to Cuba,” which prompts us to ask, once again, “Is our travel industry gearing up for the return of Americans to Cuba?”

According to Reuters, US tour operators held a video conference with Cuban tourism officials in Havana last week and asked them if they are ready for the “rush” of Americans if the US travel ban is lifted as proposed by legislation now under consideration in the US Congress.

Robert Whitely, president of the US Tour Operators, which together with the National Tour Association, handles 75 percent of all package tour business to the Caribbean, predicted that “at least 850,000 Americans will go to Cuba in the first year.” That does not include an estimated 480,000 Americans who will go to Cuba on Caribbean cruises when US ships are allowed to dock there.

Cuba was a favourite playground for Americans in the 1950s, when the Mafia ran casinos and brothels in Havana that were closed by Castro. As Cuba veered towards communism, Washington broke off diplomatic ties, imposed trade and travel bans and Cuba’s tourist trade all but disappeared for three decades. However, some 2.5 million tourists visited Cuba this year, mostly from Canada and Europe.

But whether American tourists will return to Cuba will hinge on debate in Congress, where opponents say sanctions should not be lifted until Cuba frees political prisoners and undertakes democratic reforms to its one-party state. Whist this may not be an event that our own tourism industry will have to face in 2010, surely such a change in the established order of things is inevitable sooner or later.

We have discussed in these columns on previous occasions the implications of Cuba opening up, especially from a tourism perspective and, as we head into a new year, this seems to be an opportune moment to revisit the topic, especially given the apparent heightened interest in the US travel industry.

There is no doubt that Cuba is the sleeping giant of our region and, compared to the Cayman Islands, has vast resources of raw materials, agricultural products and labour, all at greatly reduced cost in comparison to what is typical here.

Indeed, given the proximity and the historical family and other connections between Cuba and the Cayman Islands, Cuba is far more of a natural trading partner than some Central American countries that have been receiving attention in the past.

To our mind, Cuba therefore represents both an opportunity for increased trade and co-operation, as well as an eventual threat as a competitor for tourism dollars.

We have remarked on previous occasions that the Cayman Islands, along with other destinations in the region, have had a forty-year free run in the tourism stakes. Up to the early 1950s, Cuba was very much the destination of choice for a large segment of the American travel market.

Now, without any contribution from the American market to speak of, Cuba’s tourism sector currently earns approximately US$2 billion a year, with half of the tourists coming from Canada, Argentina and Venezuela, and the other half from Europe, principally Italy, Germany and France. Air Canada alone runs 10 flights per week into Cuba in the summer, rising to 28 weekly flights in the winter.

The world’s largest resort operator, a Spanish company, operates 24 hotels in Cuba, one quarter of the country’s hotel rooms.

Jamaican tourism interests have predicted a slump in visitors from America if the US lifts its travel ban to Cuba but they are already preparing for the reopening of Cuba to US travellers. What are we doing to make similar preparations? So far as we can tell, the answer still seems to be very little, if anything.

Hotel chains in Jamaica already operate hotels in Cuba and Air Jamaica also has regular flights there, providing the potential for multi-destination tourism between Cuba and Jamaica.

Surely there will be similar opportunities for multi-destination travel between Cuba and the Cayman Islands that we need to be thinking about now rather than when our competitors have beaten us to the punch.

Clearly, we are not going to be able to compete with the initial novelty value of Cuba as a “new” vacation destination for Americans but we should be planning for the inevitable and doing our best to profit from it instead of relying on the customary knee-jerk reaction.

The tourism sector in the Cayman Islands has been facing some significant challenges in recent years and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Another strong regional competitor in the shape of Cuba is not going to make life any easier for tourism stakeholders.


John McAuliff:

Multi-destination tourism offers good opportunities, in part, because Cuba's hotel capacity will not be adequate in the initial years. Having twice as many people visiting for half the time, while spending the remainder of their holiday in the nearby, better developed, Cayman Islands, will make sense for both countries. However, the packages must be developed and promoted now. Cayman Airways should offer, without delay, direct connecting flights from New York, and on its other established US routes which do not require disembarking. The return flights could be structured around an overnight, or longer, stopover in Grand Cayman to decompress from the intensity of first visits by Americans to Cuba. A growing number of Americans are choosing to disregard the unenforceable restrictions on their travel to Cuba. One of the simplest ways for them to exercise this internationally recognized human right should be through the Cayman Islands so the itinerary is well-established by the time Congress ends the travel embargo.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cruises Serving Cuba

From a letter to The Havana Times blog

the issue on the cruise ships to havana is of great interest since our company CUBA REAL TOURS, a swiss owned and havana based touroperator, is presently organising the shore excursions of three cruise ships. last week came from hapag lloyd the number one cruise ship in the world the MS EUROPE. this week we have also from hapag lloyd the MS COLUMBUS and as of Dec. 31sth we do have the SEACLOUD II - one of the biggest sailing ship calling several ports in this country. there was also the LE LEVANT yacht of the french company ponant in cuba just these days, although this ship was handled by someone else.

we do have the intention to bring in more cruise ships in the future but with the restrictions given, they have to be owned by non american companies and observe the 6 months rule of not returning to a US port after visiting cuba.

kind regards,


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Money Lost to US Travel Business

Cuba: Travel ban costs US businesses $1.1B a year

The Europa cruise ship is seen in Havana Bay, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. (AP  
AP – The Europa cruise ship is seen in Havana Bay, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano) 
HAVANA – U.S. tourism companies could take in at least $1.1 billion a year on trips to Cuba if Washington didn't ban most of its citizens from visiting the island, officials said Wednesday during a videoconference with American tour operators. That figure includes $600 million in sales by airlines, $300 million for travel agents and $200 million in U.S. tourism-related exports and services, including food and drink items that could be sold to Cuba as well as spending on advertising to promote Cuba as a destination, said Miguel Figueras, a top aide to Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero. Figueras provided few details on how Cuba arrived at the numbers, but pointed to a previous study by the American Society of Travel Agents in asserting that without travel restrictions, 1.8 million U.S. tourists would come to Cuba annually. That includes some 482,000 Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the island, he said. More than 2 million foreign tourists come to Cuba every year, with the biggest numbers from Canada, Britain, Italy, Spain and France. It wasn't clear how much of what Cuba was estimating would be new business for U.S. tour operators, since many people interested in visiting Cuba are likely to take trips elsewhere and not simply stay home because they can't come to the island. Journalists attending the videoconference were not allowed to ask questions. Currently, U.S. citizens, other than Cuban-Americans, may legally visit Cuba only if they obtain a license from the Treasury Department for government, journalistic, religious or humanitarian purposes. The embargo took its current form in February 1962 and prohibits nearly all trade between both countries, although the travel ban was eased during the Carter administration. Legislation introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate would end the travel ban, but a series of similar proposals in the past have never made it to floor votes. Dozens of representatives from Cuba's government-run hotels, travel agencies and rental car outlets participated in the video link to a gathering of a similar number of U.S. tourism executives at a Washington hotel. One U.S. tour operator wanted to know why he couldn't buy Cuban beach property and build his own hotel — an impossibility in a communist country where the government dominates all aspects of the economy. Another asked if Cubans are still prohibited from entering tourist hotels, a ban that stood for decades but was lifted in April 2008. When asked about golf, Figueras said the government would like to build 10 new courses. Now, there are just two — a nine-hole course in Havana and an 18-hole one at the beach resort of Varadero. The government has talked for decades about more golf courses, but hasn't yet built even one.


U.S. Travel Industry Gearing up for Return to Cuba
By Anthony Boadle,
December 16, 2009


It's too soon for
Americans to plan a Cuban vacation of beach, mambo and mojitos, but the U.S.
travel industry is gearing up for a return to its largest Caribbean destination
before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

Tour operators held a video
conference with Cuban tourism officials in Havana on Wednesday and asked them if
they are ready for the "rush" of Americans if the U.S. travel ban is lifted as
proposed by legislation now under consideration in the U.S.

"Americans really want to see Cuba," said Robert Whitely,
president of the U.S. Tour Operators, which together with the National Tour
Association also present at the event, handles 75 percent of all package tour
business to the Caribbean.

"We predict that at least 850,000 Americans
will go to Cuba in the first year," Whitely said.

That does not include
an estimated 480,000 Americans who will go to Cuba on Caribbean cruises when
U.S. ships are allowed to dock there, and another 480,000 Cuban American
visiting family in Cuba each year, a Cuban official said.

Cuba plans to
build 30 hotels over the next six years with the help of foreign investors,
adding 10,000 rooms to the 48,600 that exist now, as well as golf courses, said
Miguel Figueras, the top adviser to the Cuban tourism minister.


Cuba was a favorite playground for Americans in the 1950s,
when the Mafia ran casinos and brothels in Havana that were closed by Castro. As
Cuba veered toward communism, Washington broke off diplomatic ties, imposed
trade and travel bans and Cuba's tourist trade all but disappeared for three

Some 2.5 million tourists visited Cuba this year, mostly from
Canada and Europe, said Figueras, who indicated that U.S. companies are losing
out to the tune of $1 billion a year.

According to Cuban estimates based
on 2 million Americans visiting Cuba a year, U.S. airlines stand to earn $600
million and travel agencies $300 million annually, Figueras

President Barack Obama has said he wants to improve ties with
communist-run Cuba and lifted restrictions introduced by the Bush administration
on visits and family remittances by Cuban Americans to the island.

whether American tourists will return to Cuba will hinge on debate in Congress,
where opponents say sanctions should not be lifted until Cuba frees political
prisoners and undertakes democratic reforms to its one-party state.

say American tourism will help prop up the communist government of President
Raul Castro, who succeed his ailing brother last year.

A bill to end the
travel ban sponsored by Democrat Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Republican
Jeff Flake of Arizona has 195 backers in the House of Representatives, 23 votes
short, supporters of the measure said.

Similar legislation in the Senate
has the support of key senators such as Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, but
needs 60 votes to pass.

"They are within striking distance in the House,"
said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute think tank.

action on the bill is expected until the spring.

(Additional reporting by
Marc Frank in Havana, editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Copyright 2009 Reuters News Service.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hotels Interest in Cuba

Sol Melia to Gain From U.S. Repeal of Cuba Travel Ban

By Jens Erik Gould and Nadja Brandt

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Spanish hotelier Sol Melia SA will benefit over American rivals like Marriott International Inc. if a bill before U.S. lawmakers this week to end a 46-year travel ban to Cuba is enacted while a broader embargo is kept in place.

The trade embargo would ban U.S. hotel operators from lodging the 1.1 million Americans that the U.S. International Trade Commission says may visit annually if the travel ban is lifted. And repealing the ban may drive business away from other Caribbean resorts operated by U.S. companies, said Robert Muse, a Washington-based lawyer.

“While lifting the travel ban is a perfectly commendable project, the main economic beneficiary will be Sol Melia,” said Muse, who advises U.S. clients on Cuba-related issues. Palma de Majorca, Spain-based Sol Melia is the world’s largest resort operator. It manages 24 hotels on the communist island.
The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold a hearing Nov. 19 on the travel ban, the first since Democrats took control of Congress in 2007.

U.S. hotels, mobile phone providers, travel insurance companies and credit card issuers see the bill, known as the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act,” as a step to ending the embargo, said Jake Colvin, vice president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Standing Room Only

The Washington-based trade association has held about six meetings with dozens of its 300 members to discuss business opportunities with Cuba since President Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush in January.

“If these meetings were taking place under Bush,” who favored retaining the travel ban, “you could’ve fit everyone interested in a closet,” said Colvin. “Now they’re standing room only.”

Christopher Sabatini, policy director at the Council of the Americas in New York, agreed that repealing the travel ban may lead to a reconsideration of the embargo. “The idea is to get rid of the travel ban and then let the momentum build,” he said.

The legislation has 179 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House and needs 218 votes to pass if all 435 members vote. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate.

Marriott shares rose 70 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $27.66 at 3:38 p.m. New York time. Sol Melia’s shares rose 26 cents, or 3.9 percent, to 6.76 euros.

“We certainly would monitor any changes the U.S. government makes regarding doing business in Cuba,” Tom Marder, a spokesman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Marriott said.


U.K.-based InterContinental Hotels Group Plc. says it will not enter Cuba as long as the embargo is in place. The company is subject to U.S. laws because the majority of its investments are in that country, said Alvaro Diago, who is chief operating officer and head of Latin America.

U.S. hotel companies aren’t getting their fair share of the Cuban market while European companies have already a foot in the market,” Diago said in an interview.

U.S. tourists will flock to Cuba because their inability to travel there for almost 50 years has created an “allure” and “mysteriousness” about the island, said Eric Trump, executive vice president of development and acquisitions for Trump Organization, a real estate investment and development company founded by Donald J. Trump.

‘On our Radar’

Cuba has been on our radar, but until we can actually get in there, it’s harder to plan preliminary steps,” Trump, 25, said in an interview. “We are such a presence in south Florida. It’s such a staple for us. Cuba would fit right in there.”

Wyndham Worldwide Corp., the franchiser of Days Inn hotels and Super 8 motels, considers the lifting of the embargo a matter of time, according to Eric Danziger, president and chief executive officer of Wyndham’s hotel division.

“Sol Melia is there presently and that gives them a current advantage,” Danziger said in a telephone interview, adding that the market has great appeal.

Ignacio Sosa, a Cuban-born founder and managing partner of Boston-based hedge fund OneWorld Investments from 1998-2008, said “singling out Cuba as the only country Americans can’t travel to has produced no positive results.”

Sosa, who emigrated with his anti-Castro family from Cuba in 1960 when he was four years old, will testify at the hearing with retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, the White House’s anti-drug czar from 1996-2001, and James Cason, who headed the U.S. interests section in Havana under Bush.

On Sept. 3, Obama ended restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling and sending money transfers to relatives back home. That’s expected to double to 200,000 the number of U.S. tourists visiting the island this year, Sabatini said.

‘Holy Grail’

“If you are a potato, you can get to Cuba very easily,” Representative Sam Farr, a California Democrat and one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said in a Sept. 21 interview. “But if you are a person, you can’t, and that is our problem.”

Orbitz Worldwide Inc. said Nov. 11 that it received 100,000 signatures for a campaign it started in May called Lifting the travel ban to Cuba would probably increase Orbitz’s revenue from airline and hotel bookings, Chief Executive Barney Harford said in a Nov. 10 interview.

U.S. passengers on Caribbean cruise lines, with their accommodation and amenities already provided at sea, will demand sightseeing stops in Havana, said Bob Whitley, president of the United States Tour Operators Association, which supports lifting the travel ban.

Cuba is the Holy Grail of cruising,” Richard Fain, chief executive officer of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said in an Oct. 6 interview in New York. “I can’t wait until we have a free and open Cuba.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jens Erik Gould in Mexico City at; Nadja Brandt in Los Angeles at
Last Updated: November 16, 2009 15:50 EST

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Potential flights from Ft. Lauderdale on Jet Blue and Spirit

Cuba travel clears one hurdle in Broward

The Broward County Commission took the first steps to becoming a gateway to Cuba.

Residents and travelers with relatives in Cuba might be able to hop a plane or boat out of Broward bound for Cuba.

Broward County commissioners on Tuesday approved seeking permission from the federal government to allow flights to and from Cuba at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
County officials will also ask the U.S. Department of Treasury to designate Port Everglades as another point of entry.

Commissioners approved the item without discussion.

But the chances of the county getting approval -- and when the trips would start -- are unknown.
``We want to put ourselves to be in a position to be considered,'' Broward airport director Kent George said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government eased travel restrictions to Cuba to allow those who have relatives there to visit more often. More than 100,000 people of Cuban descent live in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

But the federal government still has to create a national policy that will determine whether several airports and ports are granted access at once or gradually, George said.

Spirit Airlines and JetBlue have expressed an interest in starting such flights out of the Fort Lauderdale airport. George estimates the airlines would start offering service a couple of times a week.

Currently three airports have permission to fly to Cuba: Miami, New York-Kennedy and Los Angeles.
Several airports nationwide, including Key West and Tampa, have expressed interest in offering service to Cuba.

If Fort Lauderdale wants to be successful, ``I think they better get to Washington,'' said Vivian Mannerud, owner of Airline Brokers Company, which charters flights from Miami to Cuba. ``There are other airports in the U.S. that have been lobbying very heavily to get approved and they have been at it for seven or eight months.''

George said he had no immediate plans to send lobbyists to Washington, D.C. though he said that is a possibility.

Adding flights to Cuba would not increase costs for the airport.

Said George: ``We have the gates, customs and security.''

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

British Cruise Line to Add Cuba

Thomson Cruises Will Sail to Cuba in 2010-2011
October 7, 2009

Havana (4:30 p.m. EDT) -- British line Thomson Cruises is shaking things up in winter 2010-2011 with a series of new 14-night Caribbean itineraries -- including Thomson's first-ever calls in Havana, Cuba. The cruises will be operated by the new 1,506-passenger, 54,000-tonne Thomson Dream, which will join the fleet in April 2010.

Havana is an exciting choice because not many cruise lines visit the Cuban city, due to U.S. restrictions on travel there. Even U.K.-based Fred. Olsen has only four cruises calling in Havana in 2010; German line Hapag-Lloyd offers just a couple of calls in Cuba, as well. However, when Thomson Dream sails its new two-week cruises from December 2010 to March 2011, it will not only offer a full season of Cuban visits but also will feature two or three days in Havana on each itinerary.

There are three different types of itineraries from which to choose -- Caribbean Experience, Cuban Adventure and Classic Caribbean. What's unusual is that the ship will actually sail a repeating, 21-night route that will be divided into 14-night segments. That means passengers will debark, and new passengers will board halfway through your cruise. Also, because each 14-night segment is a one-way sailing, Thomson will not offer a fly-cruise option. (There is no option to sail three weeks roundtrip from any of the departure points, as many ports of call are repeated from segment to segment.)

Here are the highlights of each:

Caribbean Experience: This cruise sails from Barbados to Havana, visiting multiple Caribbean islands and Central American ports, including Roatan, Costa Maya and Cozumel. The itinerary features an overnight in Cuba. Departure dates are 23 December 2010; 13 January, 3 and 24 February 2011.

Cuban Adventure: This cruise sails from Montego Bay to Barbados, visiting Central America and Southern and Eastern Caribbean ports. The itinerary features three days and two nights in Cuba, mid-cruise. Departure dates are 30 December 2010; 20 January, 10 February and 3 March 2011.

Classic Caribbean: This cruise sails from Havana to Montego Bay, concentrating on Caribbean islands. The itinerary begins with an overnight in Cuba. Departure dates are 6 and 27 January and 17 February 2011.

In addition to Havana, these Caribbean itineraries include two more new-for-Thomson ports: Santa Marta, Columbia (on Classic Caribbean and Caribbean Experience), and Roatan, Honduras (on Caribbean Experience and Cuban Adventure).

Thomson Dream's Caribbean itineraries will go on sale on 5 November 2009.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Program for Destination Seminar at Las Vegas Trade Show

"Cuba Breakthrough:
Opportunities for the US Travel Industry"

• Welcome by moderator

Robert E. Whitley, CTC, President, United States Tour Operators Association

• Slide presentation of Cuba as a destination (15 min)

Christopher P. Baker, travel writer and photographer since 1983, considered the world's foremost authority on travel and tourism to Cuba, about which he has written six books, including the Moon Cuba, Moon Havana, and National Geographic Traveler Cuba guidebooks, plus Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba. He has written for publications as diverse as National Geographic Traveler, Newsweek, and Robb Report. He has addressed Cuba at the National Press Club, World Affairs Council, "Live from National Geographic," etc., and appears regularly on ABC, CBS, Fox News, NPR, and similar radio and TV outlets. He was named Lowell Thomas Award Travel Journalist of the Year in 2008 and is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers.

• The Cuba experience of a US tour operator (10 min)

Andrea Holbrook, President of Holbrook Travel, has been working in Cuba since 2000 as a licensed Travel Service Provider (TSP). Her company is a tour operation specializing in educational and natural history travel since 1974. Holbrook Travel uses its unique expertise in customizing programs to create magical learning experiences; connecting knowledge-seeking travelers to diverse environments and cultures around the world. Company founder and ecotourism pioneer, Giovanna Holbrook, is also responsible for establishing the Selva Verde Lodge and Rainforest Reserve, which protects 500 acres of primary forest in northeastern Costa Rica. Andrea chairs the Travel Industry Network on Cuba.

• Operational in Cuba, a personal insight on commercial tourism today (10 min)

Marti Aragones, Sales and Marketing Director, Canada – US Market, Sol Melia Cuba Hotels, the largest foreign manager of hotels and resorts on the island. He has been with Sol Melia for 12 years, 5 of them working directly at the destination in Cuba, the rest working in Canada and as Sales and Marketing Director. Before that Aragones owned a travel agency in Spain for 3 years.

• Cuba’s potential for American tour operators (15 min)

Lisa Simon, CTP, President, National Tour Association (NTA) since 2004. She began her tenure with NTA in 1985 and served as its senior vice president from 1998 to 2004. Simon has managed NTA’s education, certification and marketing activities, as well as served as the director of the National Tourism Foundation and vice president of Marketing. With more than 20 years’ experience in association marketing and management, her facilitation skills and analytical abilities have proven effective in leadership development, strategic planning, organizational structure and managing change. She is a member of the American Society of Association Executives, and serves on the boards of the US Travel Association and Tourism Cares

Robert E. Whitley, CTC, President, United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA)
since 1978. Before joining USTOA, Whitley held positions as director of the Florida Department of Tourism, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Tourism and director of the Virginia Beach Convention and Tourist Bureau. Mr. Whitley is the recipient of numerous marketing awards for travel promotion, and has served on the Board of Directors of many travel industry associations. For seven consecutive years he was recognized by a leading trade magazine as one of the travel industry’s 25 most influential executives, and was named in 1996, 1997 and 1999 as Person of the Year for Travel Industry Associations by Travel Agent Magazine. He was also given the 2005 Travel Weekly Award for Lifetime Achievement.

• Gov. Bill Richardson in Cuba: Travel Challenges and Opportunities (10 min)

Tony Martinez, Senior Foreign Policy Adviser to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on U.S. Relations with Cuba and Latin America; Attorney, Government Relations, and Strategic Business Consultant. He has worked on United States-Cuba relations and policy issues for the last ten years. He advises food, medical, agriculture, telecommunications, and travel companies on legally permissible trade and travel to Cuba and has led several business and Congressional delegations to the island. An expert on U.S. Congressional politics, Tony has been involved with these issues since he was 16 years old. He has worked closely with Gov. Richardson over the last 17 years during his tenures as U.S. Representative, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and U.S. Energy Secretary. He recently accompanied him on his trip to Cuba in August, 2009. Twitter: usambcuba

• Washington update, the Administration and Congress (5 min)

John McAuliff, Coordinator, Travel Industry Network on Cuba; Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development. He organized licensed educational travel to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1985 and to Cuba from 1997. A leader of efforts by US non-governmental organizations to normalize travel, trade and diplomatic relations with Indochina and Cuba. Active in US civil rights and anti-war movements and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru.


Visit our Cuba Now booth # 1237. Andrea, Marti and Tony will be there on Sunday and Monday. Sign the Open Cuba petition on-line. The first 400 new signers (and bringers of signers) will receive a button and USTOA T-shirt. Business card draw for CDs noon Tuesday.


Yes, we all can make a difference:

• Share the petition link with your friends and clients

• Urge the President to license unlimited travel for educational, cultural, religious, humanitarian and other non-tourist purposes

• Ask if your Representative and Senators will cosponsor, or at least commit to vote for, legislation that legalizes all travel and tourism: HR 874, S 428 (text at

• Join and support the educational work of the Travel Industry Network on Cuba

Travel Industry Network on Cuba, c/o Fund for Reconciliation and Development
145 Palisade Street, Suite 401, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522 914-231-6270

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Highest Ranked Hotels

Cuba Hotel Awards - A Way Through Excellence

August 23, 2009

Looking for more than good-value hotels in Cuba? Discover a selection of Cuba hotels that have received several prizes and awards, granted by international tour operators and tourism specialists. These leading facilities could be a fine choice for your perfect Cuba holiday or vacation if you trust well-known experts’ criteria.

One of the most prestigious lists of the best hotels worldwide is The Gold List of Condé Nast Traveler. This annual list includes a selection of the hotels around the world that have the best service, rooms, food, ambiance and design, location and leisure facilities. The Saratoga hotel, an Old Havana hotel, received a high rating in the readers’ travel awards 2006 survey, since it was at 24 in the hot list 2006 of the 60 best new hotels in the world within the category “Best for Ambiance/Design”. You can find this distinguished facility in a prime location opposite the Capitol at Havana City. Art lovers will appreciate the Cuban art in all the public spaces of the property and the “mélange” of colonial and contemporary styles at bedrooms and lounges.

If you look further examples of hotel excellence then you should consider theWorld Travel Awards, voted by travel agents worldwide. They were established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate the achievements in all sectors of the global travel industry. These awards are regarded as the “Oscars” of the tourism industry by The Wall Street Journal. Cuba hotels winners at 2007 and 2008 were Hotel Nacional de Cuba as Cuba’s Leading Hotel and Sandals Royal Hicacos Resort & Spa was the Leading Resort. A classy Cuban hotel at the Cuban capitol city and a gorgeous beach resort in one of the best beaches of the island and of the Caribbean, these are the choices of tens of thousands of travel experts, such as travel agents and other travel professionals.

Also Thomas Cook, one of the most important tour operators in the world, recently accorded its Marque of Excellence Award to Paradisus Rio de Oro Resort & Spa, a hotel which received several important prizes in 2008. For those seeking blissful vacations, here you will find a piece of your own paradise. This elegant hotel, located right alongside Playa Esmeralda beach in the province of Holguin, has received for the fifth time the Marque of Excellence Award (2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008) due to the quality ratings granted by clients. Since it is a 5-star Ultra All-Inclusive hotel that was conceived for adults over 18 years, it is more suitable for romantic getaways, weddings, honeymoons, events and vacations with group of friends.

Plus, Trip Advisor, the largest travel destinations and tips guide in the Web, granted this Cuba hotel two Travelers Choice 2008 Awards (The Best All-Inclusive in the World and the Most Romantic Hotel in Latin America and the Caribbean). These popular distinctions in the tourist industry represent the views of millions of travelers that have selected this hotel for its outstanding service.

Moreover, Paradisus Río de Oro hotel received the Gold Medal 2008 Award accorded by clients of First Choice, the leading British wholesale company. Also in 2006, the Paradisus Rio de Oro was awarded the Travelers’ Choice Prize in the category of Most Outstanding Hidden Jewels of the Caribbean. Want a better reason to go there in your next Cuba vacations?

If you prefer more responsible and ecologic hotels then you should try Brisas Guardalavaca. This Cuba hotel has won the important award “Green Planet Award” presented by the European Tour Operator Kuoni. This distinction is given to the hotels contracted by this tour operator with relevant results in terms of Environmental Care. This facility has also received the National Basic Environmental Award presented by the Ministry of Technology and Environment in Cuba. So if your catchphrase is “a better and a greener world is possible” then you should consider Brisas Guardalavaca in the top of your Cuba hotels choices.

Also for environment enthusiasts there is a fine resort at Varadero beach, the Iberostar Tainos hotel, which has won an Environmental Hotel Award in 2004/05. Singles, couples and families will appreciate the good four-star value of this recently built hotel, set on a beautiful stretch of beach surrounded by tropical gardens.

Other Cuba hotels have won international distinctions like Meliá Las Antillas, which was awarded the Primo Neckermann Reisen 2008 Award thanks to the rankings given by clients of the important German tour operator Neckermann, part of Thomas Cook group. This property ranked among the 100 best and most popular hotels in the world in 2008! So if you want to experience a truly unforgettable holiday you should look after this offer, an All-Inclusive Superior 4-star resort especially recommended for weddings, honeymoons, tourist groups and circuits.

Also the magnificent Paradisus Princesa del Mar hotel was granted the Marque of Excellence Award 2007 by leading tour operator Thomas Cook, in recognition of the hotel’s high service standards and quality of its accommodations. What’s important about this award is that clients are the ones who assess the hotels by responding to Thomas Cook’s satisfaction polls, which measure the service, facilities and quality of the accommodations. It is conceived for adults aged 18 and over and it is highly recommended for those who want to spend some time in romantic environments with extraordinary scenic views and total privacy.

(Personally, I would add the Melia Cohiba in Havana, especially for a working visit or conference. --John McAuliff)

Monday, August 17, 2009

US Allowing More People to Travel

By David Adams, Times Latin America Correspondent

St. Petersberg Times,

Published Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three times during the last eight years, John Tredway applied for a license to take American students to debate their counterparts in Cuba. Three times, he was denied.

Then the other day he got word that a new request to take students from New College in Sarasota had been approved by the Treasury Department.

"It really came out of the blue," said Tredway, 60, director of USA Youth Debates, which sends groups of students all over the world. "We had been reading in the press about Obama's new Cuba policy for Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba, but nothing indicated that the policy had changed with regard to other Americans."

After eight years of cultural freeze, it seems the ice is thawing between the United States and Cuba. In the coming months, a major Hispanic musician from Miami and a New York orchestra are planning to perform in Cuba, an apparent reversal of the Bush administration policy of isolating the island regime. A sudden surge of Cuban performers are coming here as well.

"The president (Obama) has himself stated that people-to-people contact is good for both countries," said Timothy Ashby, a Cuba specialist with the Miami law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. "It's pretty clear that's the policy."

The Obama administration has approved a Sept. 20 peace concert in Havana's Revolution Square by Colombian rocker Juanes, who lives in Key Biscayne and is one of Latin music's hottest artists. Cuban officials also say they are also looking forward to hosting the New York Philharmonic in late October. An orchestra spokesman confirmed that a trip to Cuba is being planned and that final arrangements are being worked out.

Juanes visited Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss plans for the concert.

"We have no official role in the concert, but the Department of State is in favor of these types of cultural exchanges since they increase understanding among nations," a State Department spokesman said. "We have respect for Juanes and we wish him lots of luck with the project."

Juanes, whose real name is Juan Esteban Aristizãbal, may need it. The concert is under attack from hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami who accuse Juanes of naively providing legitimacy to Cuba's communist regime.

"The concert promises to be nothing more than a shameless, thoughtless and heartless appearance by the 36-year-old singer and his fellow performers," according to Joe Cardona, a Cuban-American filmmaker in Miami. "It will be one more tacit legitimization of the hemisphere's most oppressive 50-year-old dictatorship," he wrote in an op-ed in the Miami Herald.

Exiles object to Juanes receiving a license to perform in Revolution Square, usually the scene of Communist Party rallies. But Juanes has defended the concert, pointing out that Pope John Paul II held an open-air Mass in the square in 1998.

"It's a neutral place," Juanes told Univision, the Spanish-language television network.

He noted that the square is built around a monument to Cuban independence leader Jose Marti, who is revered in both Havana and Miami. "No one is using me," he insisted.

The 1962 economic embargo against Cuba prevents Americans or U.S. residents from traveling to Cuba unless they obtain a license from the Treasury Department. Over the years a number of specific categories for licensed travel have been created, including journalists, professional researchers and Americans on approved commercial business for food, agricultural and medical sales.

Last year the Treasury Department approved 21 licenses for "public performances" in Cuba — mostly for athletic events — up from only seven in 2007. Already this year 20 licenses have been approved, according to Treasury Department spokeswoman Marti Adams.

Last month actors Robert Duvall, James Caan and Bill Murray visited Cuba for four days under an unspecified professional research license, which is generally easier to obtain than one for events that can generate revenue or publicity for the Cuban government.

More Cubans, from actors to academics, are being allowed into the United States as well. A group of 12 Cuban actors presented a Spanish-language version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the University of Alabama this month.

"This is beyond uncommon. No musician or performing group has been allowed in this country like this from Cuba since 2003," said Ned Sublette, a performer and composer from New York who has studied and written about Cuban music.

Other licenses are pending. The Sarasota Yacht Club last month applied for a license to organize a regatta to Cuba in May 2010, one of a number of boating events in Cuba next year that Florida sailors are hoping to attend if restrictions are eased.

The increased number of licenses does not represent a change in law, but rather a more permissive interpretation of existing regulations, said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., who favors lifting all travel restrictions.

"Now they are granting licenses the way they are supposed to, as the regulations were written," he said.

David Adams can be reached at Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Key West to Cuba Race Planned

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A sailboat race from Key West to Cuba (& back) is planned for November of next year.

Small & fast catamarans (18-24 feet) will begin racing at the White Street Pier, covering 95 miles to Marina Hemingway, Cuba. Racers will spend a couple days in Cuba on a mission of cultural exchange focused on sailing. The return trip to Key West is another 95 mile race.

Race organizers have set up a Google groups site at: . You can read more about it there.

I swear, if you listen hard enough, you can hear the Cuban travel embargo leaning over, creaking past the tipping point, ready to fall at any momemt. A political Leaning Tower of Piza if you will. (Yes, I'm aware the Piza Tower has been stabilized).

One has to wonder if the travel ban has in effect been left to expire.

If nothing else, the government no longer wants to defend it.

Take a look at this story about Mytchell Mora - an American who traveled illegally to Cuba and announced that fact upon his return at U.S. Customs. He's hoping to challenge the travel ban in court. Instead, Customs sent him home - without punishment, and with his Cuban souveneirs.

Meanwhile, OFAC, the branch of government in charge of enforcement of Cuba travel rules, is losing funding in a move to quietly deflate the policy.

Orbitz Travel Petition Over 70,000

Orbitz hits signature milestone in Cuba-travel drive
August 16, 7:14 PM · Dennis Schaal - Newark Travel Examiner

Orbitz, the travel website based in Chicago, recorded its 70,000th signer late last month to a petition calling on the Obama administration to overturn the roughly 50-year-old U.S. ban on travel by Americans to Cuba.

Securing that number of petition signers occurred less than three months after the campaign began.

Orbitz Worldwide spokesman Brian Hoyt said one aim of is to attract 100,000 signers.

Hoyt said Orbitz would then present the petitions to elected officials in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

In starting the petition drive, Orbitz took a calculated risk since Cuba travel is controversial and big companies often prefer to steer clear of hot-button issues that can provoke protests, includling boycotts.

But Orbitz's feeling is that regardless of Americans' stance on the Cuban regime -- and viewpoints vary -- it is wrong to restrict Americans' basic freedom to travel.

After all, there are no barriers on travel to China, also an authoritarian regime, for example.

In stepping out on its own on this issue, Orbitz has picked up some support in the travel industry. Supporters of the drive include Cuban-American organizations, as well as the National Tour Association, the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

The Cuban American Commission for Family Rights and the Cuban American Alliance are among the endorsers of the Orbitz effort.

But so far peers of Orbitz, including Travelocity, PriceIine and Expedia, and a broader swath of travel companies and associations haven't followed Orbitz's lead and stepped forward on this issue of such import to the rights of Americans and to the well-being of the travel industry.

It would be in these companies' own self-interest to get involved since Americans likely would flock to Cuba for vacation getaways and cruises once the U.S. government lifted the ban, authorized U.S. travel companies to book trips there, and the necessary infrastructure were in place.

The Obama administration already took steps earlier this year to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba.

Some Americans are seeking to test the legality of the ban even as it remains in force.

Erika Crenshaw returned to Los Angeles recently from a 10-day trip to Cuba with a message for authorities charged with enforcing a ban on travel to the communist-ruled island: Come and get me.

With its petition drive, and accompanying travel promotion, Orbitz hopes to prod Congress and the Obama administration to ease the restrictions for all Americans.

Copyright 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Dennis Schaal is an Examiner from Newark. You can see Dennis's articles at: ""

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cuba Ready for US Tourists

Cuba Can Service U.S. Tourists If Ban Lifted, Official Says

By Jens Erik Gould

June 24 (Bloomberg) -- Cuba’s tourism industry will have enough capacity for the surge of American travelers expected should U.S. lawmakers lift restrictions on visits to the island, said Miguel Figueras, an adviser at Cuba’s tourism ministry.

Cuba agrees with an estimate by the American Society of Travel Agents that 835,000 U.S. tourists a year, excluding cruise ships or Cuban-American family visitors, would come after an end to the travel ban, Figueras said. Cuba aims to build 30 new hotels with 10,000 rooms and 10 golf courses by 2014 without counting on changes in U.S. policy, he said.

“The Americans are welcome here,” Figueras said in an interview yesterday in Havana’s historic Hotel Nacional. “You have to be prepared for that, but you can’t make your development plans depend on whether this happens.”

U.S. lawmakers may take up scrapping the ban on travel to the communist island, which has been under a U.S. trade embargo for almost five decades. President Barack Obama in April loosened travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans visiting family members and lifted caps on money Cuban-Americans may send relatives there. He maintained the embargo.

The proposal has support to pass because Obama and the U.S. business community favor it, said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who co-sponsored the bill.

‘Brand New Environment’

“This issue is being discussed in an absolutely brand new environment, which is drawing support that it has lacked in the past,” DeLauro said in an interview.

An end to the travel ban might erode other aspects of the embargo such as the ban on bank relations, which keeps travelers from using U.S. credit or debit cards in Cuba, Figueras said.

The number of passengers flying to Cuba from the U.S. doubled in May to about 20,000 from a year earlier after Obama announced changes to the rules applied to Cuban-Americans, Figueras said.

Still, the global economic crisis is cutting total tourism revenue as visitors spend less money and fewer days on the island, he said.

Revenue dropped 14 percent in the first quarter from the same period in 2008, while the number of visitors rose 2 percent to 809,937, according to the National Statistics Office.

The tourism sector represents 7 percent of gross domestic product, Figueras said. Revenue increased 11 percent to 1.67 billion convertible pesos ($1.8 billion) last year from 2008.

U.S. Companies

“Every month an American company comes,” Figueras said, citing talks with U.S. companies about hotel and golf course projects that might be possible should the embargo end.

“The Americans are missing out,” said Juliette Sibson, a British tourist sipping frozen daiquiris at El Floridita, a bar in central Havana made famous by Ernest Hemingway. “Cuba is stunning. The history is amazing.”

Claudia, 22, a Cuban tour guide who declined to give her last name, said she hoped the U.S. will build on Obama’s recent changes for Cuban-Americans by allowing all Americans to visit.

“It would be good because it would bring more tourists,” she said in Havana’s Parque Central square. “I have family in Miami and they’re coming more.”

If U.S. travel restrictions were lifted, the number of American visitors would more than triple from 171,000 in 2005 to between 554,000 and 1.1 million, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Canadian Tourists

Last year, Canadians accounted for 818,246 of the 2.3 million tourists that visited the island, the Cuban statistics agency said.

The Dominican Republic, another Caribbean resort destination, housed 4.4 million tourists in about 60,000 hotel rooms in 2006, according to its tourism ministry Web site.

Many Americans who visit Cuba arrive on flights from Canada or Mexico and ask Cuban customs officials not to stamp their passports to avoid fines for violating the travel ban.

Cuba has about 48,000 hotel rooms, Figueras said. There are 15 hotels under joint venture contracts with foreign companies, and 49 hotels managed by international partners. The foreign companies include Sol Melia SA, the world’s largest resort operator, and Accor SA, Europe’s largest hotel company.

Eusebio Mujal-Leon, a professor of Cuban studies at Georgetown University, said the Cuban government might use visas to control the flow of U.S. tourists because it lacks sufficient hotel capacity to house them.

“They’re not going to have massive entry,” Mujal-Leon said. “They don’t have the infrastructure for it.”

Figueras said there were no plans to limit the number of Americans who can visit Cuba.

The number of American visitors in Cuba would increase slowly if the travel ban were lifted because it would take time for U.S. airlines to develop new routes and for travel agencies to develop tourist packages for the island, Figueras said.

“This isn’t an American tsunami that would happen overnight,” he said. “It takes time.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jens Erik Gould in Havana at
Last Updated: June 24, 2009 14:45 EDT


Personal comment: I love exponents of the free market who ignore its primary rationing mechanism, price! Americans will replace budget travelers from Canada and Europe who have no special interest in Cuba, and have to pay a larger amount for flights.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Travel Editor's Perspective

Cuba comeback? Americans soon may find it easy to visit a once-favorite playground

Sunday, May 31, 2009

By Catherine Watson, Universal Press Syndicate

Cuba’s Revolution turned 50 years old on New Year’s Eve, and Cubans celebrated. But the main reason wasn’t because dictator Fulgencio Batista fled from Fidel Castro’s advancing revolutionary army just after midnight on Jan. 1, 1959.

No, Cubans were just doing what they traditionally do on New Year’s Eve — eat a big dinner of slow-roasted pork with beans and rice, then sit around with friends to drink good Cuban rum, tell stories and dance.

And have the traditional midnight water fight. I didn’t expect that.

But after four trips to Cuba as a journalist, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Cuba is never what an outsider expects. It is the only country I can safely call “unique.” For good or ill, there is no place quite like it.

At a minute before midnight, I stood in the doorway of the house where I was staying and looked out into a dark, empty Havana street. Then cheering broke out, and everything exploded.

Up and down the street, people were suddenly flinging bucketfuls of water out of their windows and doors, laughing and yelling at each other. Little kids ran out into the fray, shrieking when they got soaked, and even my dignified, gray-haired host joined in, tossing out a couple of pans of water himself.

What is this, I asked, when I got over the shock. “Tradition,” he said.

When the sun came out next morning, Havana’s streets were already dry, and there was no sign that anything had happened. That made the water fight an apt metaphor for Cuba and — until this spring — for America’s relationship with it. Changes, but no change, even though change is looking more possible than it has in nearly five decades.

Earlier trips had taken me across the country from Santiago de Cuba in the east to the province of Pinar del Rio in the west, but while it was always interesting, Cuba made me sad because of its nice people and poor living conditions. I vowed not to go back “unless things changed.”

Last year, they started to. The ailing Castro stepped aside in favor of his brother Raul. America elected a new president.

I went back to check, and sure enough, there had been changes — just not ones I expected.

Cuba is the biggest of the Caribbean islands, and it is beautiful — a scimitar of tropical greenery, sugar-sand beaches and picturesque Spanish-colonial towns.

It was Spain’s richest colony and almost one of America’s. Thomas Jefferson contemplated annexing it. In the 20th century, it became an American playground, controlled by corrupt dictators and Yankee mobsters. That ended with Castro.

So did a lot of things. The revolution put communist principles into practice. Today, most of Cuba looks like the Third World — shabby and poor. But, Cubans don’t act poor. In many ways, they aren’t.

Castro made good on his biggest promises: health care and education. Both are universal and free.

Cuba’s child-mortality rate is lower than in the United States. And its literacy rate — 99.8 percent — is higher. This explains why, whenever I’ve gotten lost, every Cuban I asked — including field hands — could read a map and give me directions: not always the case in the States.

More shops had opened since my last visit, and there were more goods, and goods people might actually want, such as nice-looking shoes, small washing machines, stylish clothes. The prices were high, but the people looked better dressed, better off than they had.

There were still people in costumes, posing for snapshots and hoping for tips — young street performers on stilts, women in turbans and quaint ruffled skirts, and one ancient little guy who wandered Calle Obispo, Old Havana’s pedestrian street, wearing a Santa Claus suit. There were almost no beggars this time.

The Soviet Union had supported Cuba by buying all of its sugar, the island’s main crop. When the USSR went, so did Cuba’s economy. As the island struggled to get back on its feet, Cubans endured all sorts of shortages.

Cuba turned to tourism, forming joint partnerships with foreign developers and building strings of high-quality beach hotels, starting on Varadero Beach, east of Havana. By 1996, tourism had replaced sugar as Cuba’s biggest industry, and it is still growing.

Last year — despite punishing hurricanes — Cuba counted 2.3 million tourists. That’s a stunning total for a country with a population of only 11.4 million.

U.S. passports used to list Cuba, along with Libya and Iraq, as places where “transactions related to travel ... are generally prohibited.” Today’s passports are less specific, but the rules remain complex. What they boil down to, for most Americans, is that we can go to Cuba — we just can’t spend any money there.

But other nationals can, and they do. There were vastly more tourists this winter — not just the ubiquitous Canadians who make up 35 percent of Cuba’s visitors, but big, noisy tour groups of Italians and French. And there were more restaurants, more sights, more pricey shops and more activities to keep them busy.

This time, there were many modern cars, not just staid Russian models. These new cars mean that the famous pre-1959 American classics no longer dominate Cuban roads.

The old cars are still there, just more diluted. Many are in private hands, lovingly held together with house paint and ingenuity. Others have been exquisitely restored and bear discreet signs on their newly shiny doors: “Rent a fantasy,” they say. But that isn’t private enterprise. Car rentals, like every other aspect of Cuban tourism, are controlled by the government.

Even with more vehicles, though, traffic was thin. You could still cross any street in Havana without paying much attention in either direction, any time of day. As far as I could see, there was no rush hour.

More of Old Havana has been meticulously restored, and more restoration is under way. Plaza Vieja, the last of a quartet of lovely Spanish-colonial squares, is nearly finished. Hotels, shops, restaurants and museums have opened on all these plazas and on the key streets that connect them, and the income they generate is being reinvested to restore more.

Enough streets have been spruced up, in fact, that it is now possible to stroll all the way across Old Havana from the harbor to the Parque Central and never encounter the grinding decay in which most of the population still lives.

But the veneer is thin. Venture one or two streets off the restored main drags, and you can’t miss it. Buildings are crumbling and windows are boarded. Pavements and sidewalks are pocked with holes or half-blocked by rubble. People live crowded into tiny apartments and drying laundry flies like flags off the balconies.

And there are still shortages.

Despite it all, Cubans dance, laugh, sing, flirt, joke and chat up tourists. It’s a mistake to assume that their friendliness is just a facade, or that they all secretly loathe the regime.

“The revolution isn’t about fighting any more,” said a man who had been a little boy when Castro came to power. “Now it’s more psychological.” It has come to mean standing firm, being brave, doing your best in the face of hardship. Plenty of Cubans, including him, are proud of that.

One thing that hadn’t changed was the sound of everyday Cuban life — people talking in the street or calling from one balcony to another; the clip-clop of horses’ hooves; stray dogs arguing over scraps; even the occasional crow of a rooster. And music — music is still everywhere.

It’s impossible to walk down any street, restored or in decay, in any town, and not hear Cuban music, mostly live, pouring out of houses and hole-in-the-wall bars.

It’s also impossible to walk down a street and not get into a conversation. They still begin the same way: “Where are you from? Oh! The United States! My father (or mother or brother or son or uncle) is in the United States!”

Sometimes, the speaker has been there too. Either way, they tell you where, and the range of connections shows how close our countries used to be.

All such conversations eventually get around to the same thing: El Bloqueo, as Cubans call the American trade embargo, which is almost as old as the revolution.

The embargo grew out of the Cold War. The basic idea was to starve Castro out of office. It didn’t work.

To Cubans, continuing the embargo seems cruel. “You are friends with China,” one man said, in puzzled frustration. “You are friends with Vietnam. Why not Cuba?”

This winter, conversations had a new theme. People’s eyes would light up, and I’d know what was coming: “If only Obama. ...” “I hope Obama. ...”

On April 13 came the kind of change they’d been hoping for, when President Barack Obama lifted the restrictions that had prevented Cuban-Americans from freely visiting their relatives in Cuba and from sending money back to them.

Left unanswered was a broader question: When will the rest of us get to go to Cuba? That may change too, possibly this year.

In December, the American Society of Travel Agents requested the lifting of restrictions on travel to Cuba.

As ASTA’s president put it, “To use travel freedom as an instrument of foreign policy manipulation ultimately does harm to the very citizens it purports to protect.”

At the end of March, a Senate bill was introduced that would allow Americans to go to Cuba as we can to every other country. A companion bill has been introduced in the House. The New York Times reported that 67 percent of Cuban-Americans support lifting travel restrictions for everyone.

It may actually be time to think about reserving one of Canada’s cheap all-inclusive Cuban tour packages for next winter. Once we’re finally allowed to use them, they’ll be some of the best travel deals Americans can buy.

* * * * * * *


GETTING THERE: American tourists who go to Cuba without U.S. permission can be prosecuted and fined. For details on the travel restrictions, go to the U.S. State Department Web site,—pa—tw/cis/cis—1097.html, and the Web site of the Office of Foreign Assets Control,

MONEY: Cuba allows U.S. currency to be changed into Cuban pesos, but special fees add up to a 20 percent penalty. Credit cards, debit cards and travelers’ checks on U.S. banks don’t work. The options are opening accounts with a non-U.S. bank, getting travelers’ checks in foreign currency from a non-U.S. bank, or carrying another country’s cash.

LODGING: The most interesting places to stay are private homes with permits to rent rooms to tourists. Rates are controlled and last winter ran from $25 to $35 per room. A place to start looking is The best overall deals are all-inclusive Canadian tour packages.

FOOD AND DRINK: Cuban food is not spicy and, except at a fancy restaurant, not very exciting. Average meals in Havana run $8 to $14. Private homes permitted to serve food to guests are cheaper and often better. Cuba makes good beer, and Cuban rum is cheap and famous.

MUST-SEE: The 18th-century Governors’ Palace on the Plaza de Armas in Habana Vieja; the great fortress complex of El Morro; and the Museum of the Revolution in the former Presidential Palace on Calle Refugio. Ernest Hemingway fans should add the author’s room, No. 511, in the Ambos Mundos Hotel on Calle Obispo in Old Havana, and Finca Vigia, his peaceful villa in the Havana suburb of San Francisco de Paula. The single best thing to do in Havana doesn’t cost a cent: A walk on the Malecon, especially at twilight.

ELSEWHERE IN CUBA: Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city, lies on the south coast at the eastern end of the island. It is the site of San Juan Hill, where Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders fought against Spain in 1898. One of the spoils of that war is nearby — the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Trinidad is, like Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s as pretty and much quieter.

The Valley of Viñales is green and lovely, among limestone formations that look like the landscapes in Chinese scroll paintings.

Catherine Watson is the former travel editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Qatar ti Build Hotel in Cayo Largo

Qatar signs deal for new luxury hotel in Cuba
Wed May 6, 2009 11:42pm BST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Qatar and Cuba signed an agreement on Wednesday to build a $75 million luxury hotel on Cuba's Cayo Largo in the first major joint venture between the wealthy Gulf emirate and the communist island.

Construction on the 250-room project would begin next year with the aim of opening in 2012, they said.

The two state-owned partners, investment firm Qatari Diar and Cuba's Gran Caribe, said the five-star hotel could be expanded to 450 rooms. Sixty luxury villas are also planned.

Cayo Largo is an island in the Caribbean Sea off Cuba's southwestern coast.

Qatari Diar chief executive Ghanim bin Saad Al Saad said there was "great demand" for top quality hotels in Cuba, which drew 2.3 million tourists in 2008.

Since Raul Castro took over as president last year, Cubans have been permitted in hotels that were previously only for foreigners, but few can afford to stay in them because salaries average about $20 a month.

Al Saad and Gran Caribe president Luis Miguel Diaz Sanchez said the hotel was not being built with an American clientele in mind, although the U.S. government is loosening its longstanding ban on most U.S. travel to the island just 90 miles from Florida.

President Barack Obama recently lifted restrictions on Cuban American travel to Cuba and bills are pending in the U.S. Congress that would completely eliminate the ban that dates back to the Cold War.

The United States has had a trade embargo against Cuba since 1962 aimed at toppling the communist government installed by Fidel Castro after he took power in a 1959 revolution.

Al Saad said Qatar, which has the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world, views Cuba as ripe with investment opportunities and is looking at other possible projects, not all in tourism.

The Qatari company, which is a unit of the Qatar Investment Authority, has more than 80 projects worldwide worth in total about $60 billion, but intends to make Cuba one of its principal areas of activity, Al Saad said.

"Cuba has strong economic bases, above all in tourism," he said. "We want to send the clear message to the world that Qatar is at Cuba's side."

Qatar and Cuba have an agreement for Cuba, which regularly sends physicians to other countries, to provide medical staff and supervisors for a Qatari hospital. Al Saad said the two countries are also discussing possible agriculture ventures.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Jane Sutton and Eric Beech)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Orbitz Launches Break-through Campaign at www,

Orbitz Launches Campaign to End U.S. Travel Ban to Cuba

Orbitz Worldwide, Inc.


New Orbitz-Ipsos Poll Finds that 67% of Americans Favor Allowing All Americans to Travel to Cuba

72% Feel Expanding U.S. Travel to Cuba Would Positively Impact the Lives of the Cuban People

CHICAGO, May 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Orbitz ( and Ipsos ( today released a public opinion survey showing that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor ending the U.S. Government's 50-year ban on travel to Cuba. Orbitz today also announced the launch of the "" campaign (, which is designed to give Americans the opportunity to petition the U.S. Government to open up travel to Cuba.


"President Obama recently took a bold step in easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans," said Barney Harford, president and CEO of Orbitz Worldwide. "The campaign calls on the President and Congress to take action to end the travel ban to Cuba, giving all Americans the freedom to visit what once was a premier tourist destination for U.S. citizens."

"Our mission at Orbitz is to help travelers experience the world," continued Harford. "67% of Americans would also support a policy that would allow U.S. travel agents such as Orbitz to book vacation travel to Cuba."

The website ( gives travelers the opportunity to get directly involved in a grassroots effort to convince American legislators and regulators to end the ban on travel to Cuba. As a focus of the campaign, travelers will be asked to sign a petition calling for an end to the travel ban. Orbitz executives will formally present the petition to U.S. officials in Washington, DC, later this year.

Every person who signs the petition will receive a $100 coupon redeemable on Orbitz against a vacation to Cuba valid if and when the U.S. Government removes the ban on travel to Cuba, and as soon as Orbitz is able to offer such travel on its website.

The website also lets Americans write personal letters to President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and members of the U.S. Congress regarding the Cuba travel ban.

Orbitz-Ipsos Poll

According to the Orbitz-Ipsos Poll:

* 67% of Americans say that they would support a policy that would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba.
* 32% of Americans would strongly support such a policy that would allow all Americans to travel to Cuba.
* Only 23% say that they would oppose lifting these restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba (only 13% would strongly oppose it).
* 72% agree that expanding travel and tourism from the U.S. to Cuba would have a positive impact on the day-to-day lives of the Cuban people.
* Just 20% feel that allowing Americans to travel to Cuba would not positively impact Cubans in this way.

Other key points include:

* 67% of Americans would support a policy that would allow travel agents to book vacation travel to Cuba, mirroring the level of support for lifting the travel ban.
* Similarly, 63% of Americans agree that it should be legal for online travel sites, such as, to book travel to Cuba.
* 64% of Americans say that should play an active role to persuade elected officials to give all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba.

METHODOLOGY: The Orbitz-Ipsos poll was conducted from April 23-27th, 2009. A nationally representative sample of 1,000 randomly-selected adults aged 18 and over residing in the U.S. was interviewed by telephone via Ipsos' U.S. Telephone Express omnibus. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire population of adults in the U.S. been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were weighted to ensure the sample's regional and age/gender composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

About ( is a leading online travel company that enables travelers to search for and book a broad array of travel products, including airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, cruises and vacation packages. Since launching its website to the general public in June 2001, has become one of the largest online travel sites in the world. On consumers can search more than 80,000 suppliers worldwide including airlines, hotels and car rental companies. is owned by Orbitz Worldwide (

About Orbitz Worldwide

Orbitz Worldwide (NYSE: OWW) is a leading global online travel company that uses innovative technology to enable leisure and business travelers to research, plan and book a broad range of travel products. Orbitz Worldwide owns a portfolio of consumer brands that includes Orbitz (, CheapTickets (, ebookers (, HotelClub (, RatesToGo (, the Away Network (, and corporate travel brand Orbitz for Business ( For more information on partnership opportunities with Orbitz Worldwide, visit Orbitz Worldwide uses its Investor Relations website to make information available to its investors and the public at You can sign up to receive email alerts whenever the company posts new information to the website.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is a leading global survey-based market research company, owned and managed by research professionals that helps interpret, simulate, and anticipate the needs and responses of consumers, customers, and citizens around the world. Member companies assess market potential and interpret market trends to develop and test emergent or existing products or services, and build brands. They also test advertising and study audience responses to various media, and measure public opinion around the globe.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Americans at Havana Tourism Fair

Friday, May 08, 2009

Cuba Prepares for 'American Tsunami' of Tourists
Prospect of an 'American Tsunami' of Tourists Hangs Over the Cuban
Tourism Convention

HAVANA, Cuba, May 7, 2009 —

Cuba's magnificent Morro Cabanas fortress has stood guard over Havana
for centuries while its dungeons below grimly played host to doomed
prisoners, both ordinary and political.

Travelers never fail to gaze in awe at the huge stone structure and its
lighthouse high up on a rock cliff to the left, the city on the right,
as they enter Havana Bay from the sea.

One of the fort's many cannons still sounds at 9 o'clock every evening.
In the past it announced the closing of the gates of the once walled
city. Today it carries on the tradition, complete with colonial-era
dressed soldiers and drummers, torch lights and town criers -- all for
the tourists' pleasure. Locals often use the cannon shot to set their

This week, the fort played host to Cuba's annual tourism convention,
which unfolded within the fortress walls, complete with tropical
dancers, carnival troops and performing children. Tour operators from
more than 50 countries watched videos of the island's attractions and
haggled with their hosts over blocks of hotel rooms.

Pirates and European fleets no longer threaten from the north, but one
could imagine lookouts waiting for the first glimpse of an American
cruise ship on the horizon, and imagine the cannon's salute as the first
in half a century entered the bay.

With the United States and Cuba engaged in the first steps toward what
many believe will be a new relationship after a half century of
unremitting hostility, the prospect of an "American Tsunami" of tourists
hung over the convention.

The Obama administration has already lifted all restrictions on
Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the island, and is under pressure
to once more allow academic, cultural, religious and humanitarian
exchanges encouraged by the Clinton administration but shut down by the
Bush administration.

Antonio Diaz Medina, vice president of Havanatur, the state-run company
that handles all U.S. arrivals, said the number of Cuban Americans
visiting had increased 20 percent this year.

"The flights from the United States carried about 85,000 last year and
so far this year arrivals have been about 40,000," Diaz said.

American Tour Operators Hopeful of More Travel to Cuba

Legislation lifting all travel restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling
to Cuba was introduced in Congress more than a month ago and is given a
fair chance of passing later this year.

Italian tour operator Nicholas Delord appeared almost speechless as he
pondered the possibility.

"I guess it is OK. You know if they behave and act properly," he said.
"There will be more competition and higher prices, but you know the
Americans are everywhere."

Except Cuba, that is, which is off-limits to most Americans since the
U.S. imposed a trade embargo against the largest island in the Caribbean
after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.

Among the hundreds of mainly small businessmen and women from Europe,
Canada and South America, Cuba's main markets for the 2.3 million
tourists who arrived last year, a tall and lanky American named William
Hauf was easy to spot.

"Cuba has so many amenities and good things to offer," Hauf, whose
Island Travel and Tours brought humanitarian groups to Cuba to build
playgrounds until Bush-era regulations all but put him out of business,

"We certainly hope President Obama will relax restrictions on nontourist
travel by academics and humanitarian groups. That is why I'm here," he said.

A tour operator from Florida, who also brought people to Cuba through
2004, said she sensed the time was ripe to dive in again.

"I am confident that things are going to change sooner or later, and I
figured now was the time to reconnect," she said, asking that her name
not be used because the U.S. Treasury Department had not given her, and
a dozen other Americans who attended the convention, permission.

The Obama administration decided last month to hold off on restoring
limited travel rights to nontourist visitors first granted under the
Clinton administration's people to people policy, according to John
McAuliff of the New York-based Fund for Reconciliation and Development.

McAuliff, who played a role in the difficult process of restoring
relations with Vietnam, said, "We could have brought 100 tour operators
here, and next year we will. And if all restrictions are lifted, there
will be hundreds, maybe even a special event."

'If They Come, We Will Have Everything Ready for Them'

McAuliff and the other Americans said they supported Obama and were
disappointed he had not gone further in opening up travel.

Cuban officials appeared far less concerned, shrugging their shoulders
as if to say, "We have survived this long, so a few months or years more
makes little difference."

"If they come, we will have everything ready for them. If they need more
hotels, more will be built. We are building 5,000 rooms every year, so
we are ready," Havantur's Diaz said.

"And it is true more American tour operators are contacting us, in many
ways, e-mails, telephone calls and some just walk into my office," he said.

Diaz' company featured a video of its Santiago de Cuba offer at the
convention. Cuba's oldest city, located 600 miles east of Havana, is
where the American navy destroyed the Spanish fleet in 1898.

"You might want to add Daiquiri, where the Americans landed, San Juan
Hill where Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders charged and the Spanish
wrecks, still visible off Santiago's coast, to next year's video," I
joked, referring to the possible opening of the U.S. tourist trade.

"No problem," Diaz said with a grin. "You know some Americans come down
here now, and we often take them step by step through the battles they