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,OpenCuba.com

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 (www.orbitz.com) and Ipsos (www.ipsos.com) 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 "OpenCuba.org" campaign (www.OpenCuba.org), which is designed to give Americans the opportunity to petition the U.S. Government to open up travel to Cuba.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20070813/AQM125LOGO)

"President Obama recently took a bold step in easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans," said Barney Harford, president and CEO of Orbitz Worldwide. "The OpenCuba.org 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 OpenCuba.org website (www.OpenCuba.org) 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 OpenCuba.org 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 Orbitz.com, to book travel to Cuba.
* 64% of Americans say that Orbitz.com 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 Orbitz.com

Orbitz.com (www.orbitz.com) 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, Orbitz.com has become one of the largest online travel sites in the world. On Orbitz.com consumers can search more than 80,000 suppliers worldwide including airlines, hotels and car rental companies. Orbitz.com is owned by Orbitz Worldwide (corp.orbitz.com).

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 (www.orbitz.com), CheapTickets (www.cheaptickets.com), ebookers (www.ebookers.com), HotelClub (www.hotelclub.com), RatesToGo (www.ratestogo.com), the Away Network (www.away.com), and corporate travel brand Orbitz for Business (www.orbitzforbusiness.com). For more information on partnership opportunities with Orbitz Worldwide, visit corp.orbitz.com. Orbitz Worldwide uses its Investor Relations website to make information available to its investors and the public at http://www.orbitz-ir.com. 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.

They help clients create long-term relationships with their customers, stakeholders or other constituencies. Ipsos member companies offer expertise in advertising, customer loyalty, marketing, media, and public affairs research, as well as forecasting, modeling, and consulting and offers a full line of custom, syndicated, omnibus, panel, and online research products and services, guided by industry experts and bolstered by advanced analytics and methodologies. The company was founded in 1975 and has been publicly traded since 1999. In 2008, Ipsos generated global revenues of euro 979.3 million ($1.34 billion U.S.). Visit www.ipsos.com to learn more about Ipsos offerings and capabilities.

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


Friday, May 1, 2009

USA Today Reports Momentum Building for US Tourism

'Momentum is building' for legal U.S. tourism to Cuba


By Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY

Anticipation that the U.S. government officially will let its citizens vacation in Cuba is expected to infuse next week's International Tourism Fair there.

The trade show, which starts Monday and will showcase the largest Caribbean island for tour operators, travel agents, airline and cruise representatives from around the world, comes as President Obama has loosened restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting family back home and Congress considers bills that would open the country to U.S. tourists after a 47-year trade embargo.

"I'm very involved trying to get a law passed to lift the travel ban, and we have lots of (bipartisan) sponsors," United States Tour Operators Association president Bob Whitley says. "I feel it will pass; the key is whether Obama will let it."

Says Christopher P. Baker, author of the Moon travel guide to Cuba, who has visited the country more than 30 times: "Momentum is definitely building." He expects to see U.S. firms at next week's fair, and "I'm feeling optimism" that Cuba — about 90 miles south of Key West — will again become a sanctioned destination for Americans and their dollars.

Perhaps 40,000 slip into Cuba annually via Mexican or Canadian airports. (The Cuban government says it does not have statistics.) With an ailing Fidel Castro stepping down as president last year and replaced by brother Raul ("more of a pragmatist," Baker says), observers say Cuba is more receptive to an influx of American hotels and cruise lines.

"There is demand. A lot of (Americans) want to see Cuba," Whitley says.

Many Cubans see the trade embargo — called el bloqueo— "as the main barrier to their advancement," says Brendan Sainsbury, author of the current Lonely Planet guides to Cuba and Havana, who's just back from a visit. "Americans have always been heartily welcomed."

Cuba reported 2.3 million tourists last year vs. 3.4 million for the popular nearby Dominican Republic. Most were Canadians and Europeans. "A large tourist infrastructure does exist," Sainsbury says, especially four dozen mainly all-inclusive resorts on Varadero Beach.

But the facilities — save for some up-to-date resorts and a few contemporary Havana hotels — pose challenges for demanding Americans, experts say.

Cubans own the hotel real estate, "and (foreign) hoteliers don't have free rein to manage as they wish," Baker says. Bad service and food are common. "Communism and good service don't go together," he says. Cuba does not get a high percentage of repeat visitors, he says.

While Cuba is expanding tourist facilities, occupancy has run at 78% to 80%, Whitley says, and demand may exceed hotel supply if the embargo is lifted. U.S. chains won't discuss specific plans, but Whitley says he has heard from the president of a major U.S. brand who said that without a doubt he's interested in moving in.

"I suspect that the likes of Starwood and Ritz-Carlton will one day be in Cuba," Baker says. "But probably not until they can take control of their product."

Cruise lines are already poised to add Cuban ports of call, experts say. Whitley says U.S. tour operators could organize Cuban vacations in six months or fewer.

"There is a mystique" about Cuba, he says. "A lot of people want to see it because we've been denied the right."

"The main plus of Cuba is its uniqueness," Sainsbury says. "Due to its isolation over the last 50 years, it has developed in a totally different way."

The country's "flavor, sensuality" and rich culture are attractions, Baker says.

For its part, Cuba has "never put any restriction on visitation from North American tourists," says Alberto Gonzalez Casals, first secretary of the Washington, D.C., Cuban Interests Section. U.S. tourists "are welcome in Cuba, like all the tourists in the world."

Whitley says legislation allowing U.S. tourism "could pass this year. In time, Cuba is going to be one of the major destinations in the Caribbean."