Improved relations with Cuba increases interest in travel
President Barack Obama's reestablishment of ties with Cuba has prompted a surge in travel interest to the nation. But the door to Cuba is still not wide open.
Arthur Berman, vice president of Latur Travel in New York, said "the interest has gone up extremely, extremely well."
But he is quick to point out that no one from the United States is traveling to Cuba as a tourist right now. Those who visit the country are generally there for business purposes. None of the rules for travelers who are going to Cuba have really changed, Berman said, adding that you can bring back cigars and some liquor when you return. However, he said, travelers "cannot go down as tourists" unless they are licensed to do so.
"In other words, like going to Puerto Rico for the week or going to the Virgin Islands or to Aruba -- you can't. Americans can only travel to Cuba under one of the 12 licenses issued by OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Treasury Department," Berman said
But travel interest is very strong for cultural and business purposes. Berman said many people have taken advantage of "People to People Exchange Program."
"What that means is that we, as a tour operator, who hold the license from the Treasury Department, arrange for Americans to fly down to Cuba, not on a scheduled aircraft, but on a charter," he said. "There are only charters operating to Cuba."
Herb Ouida, director of the Global Enterprise Network at Fairleigh Dickinson University gives one example of permitted travel opportunities.
"There's a great opportunity for people who are in the communications, internet business that affords them immediate trade opportunities. Business people are saying, 'you know what? Don't go to a country where everything is easy.' You go there when it is starting, when it is even difficult, cause people remember that you have a longterm commitment to being in their market," Ouida said.
At this point Cuban tourism is still years away, in part because of U.S. restrictions and also because Cuba's infrastructure simply could not handle a sudden big tourist surge. They do not have the necessary hotel room space, the transportation to and from airports and the highway system to handle heavy tourist traffic.
For those with a cultural or business interest in Cuba, Fairleigh Dickinson University will hold a seminar called "Opening the Door to Cuba," on April 6 from 9 a.m. to noon. You can get more information about the Cuban travel seminar from Herb Ouida at firstname.lastname@example.org.