Monday, August 17, 2009

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.

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Dennis Schaal is an Examiner from Newark. You can see Dennis's articles at: ""

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