News and Facts about Cuba

How Travel to Cuba May Change

How to Cuba May Change
DEC. 18, 2014
By MATT BEARDMORE

Obama’s order on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations
with Cuba after more than 50 years has many ramifications, including for
travel. Many restrictions remain in place for Americans wanting to visit
Cuba, but the order makes it easier for a number of prospective travelers.

Q. What impact will Wednesday’s announcement have on the number of
Americans wanting to travel to Cuba?

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graphic How America’s Relationship With Cuba Will ChangeDEC. 17, 2014
A. It’s too early to tell. Many Americans clearly have a strong interest
in traveling to Cuba. Citing Cuban government data, The Times reported
on Dec. 2 that more than 90,000 Americans visited Cuba legally in 2012
and 2013 — more than twice the number that traveled (to Cuba) legally in
2008 — under people-to-people cultural exchanges. These exchanges, which
require travelers to go with a licensed operator, were reinstituted by
President Obama in 2011 to allow travel to Cuba for educational
purposes, “not for down time on the beach,” said Steve Loucks, chief
communications officer at the Plymouth, Minn.-based Travel Leaders Group.

Mr. Loucks said he anticipates demand for these exchanges to continue to
increase, especially after Wednesday’s announcement. “We are already
feeling a great deal of demand from clients wanting to go to Cuba,
because it has been off limits for over 50 years,” he said. “We now
expect the number of bookings to Cuba to grow exponentially.”

Q. Does this mean travel agencies will start organizing more trips to Cuba?

A. In some cases, yes. In fact, some were trying to meet increased
demand before Wednesday’s announcement. Last week, Tauck, a tour
operator based in Norwalk, Conn., extended its eight-day
people-to-people cultural journey to Cuba to 13 days with stops in five
cities.

“I think it’s a destination like no other,” said Katharine Bonner, vice
president for river and small ship cruising at Tauck, who has taken five
trips to Cuba in the last three years.

Joe Diaz, co-founder of the travel and publishing company Afar Media,
said he agreed with that description. “It is really something out of the
1950s,” he said. “That’s what makes Cuba special.”

Q. Will getting a passport/visa become easier?

A. Mr. Diaz said he thinks so. “But it seems like leisure and
travel are still prohibited,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see what
happens.”

This New York Times information graphic identifies the exceptions for
United States citizens and permanent residents who want to travel to
Cuba on a general license that require no special permission.

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President Obama’s order will open up general licenses to travel for the
following reasons, which previously required approval on a case-by-case
basis:

Public performances, workshops and athletic competitions.

Support for the Cuban people, including work. Humanitarian
work. Private foundations and institutes. Information dissemination.

Travel related to export of authorized products.

But lifting all restrictions on travel, including for , would
require congressional approval.

Q. Will United States airlines start flying commercially to Cuba?

A. Possibly, but don’t head to Kennedy International or O’Hare
International Airport any time soon and expect to hop a commercial
flight to Havana. Commercial service from the United States to the Cuban
capital is “going to be down the road,” Mr. Loucks said. “Many airlines
are already flying between Miami and Havana, but it’s more of a charter
service. It’s essentially ferrying family members back and forth along
with those on people-to-people exchanges.”

Q. What is the room/accommodation situation in Cuba now?

A. “There is a lot, but at the high end there are only a couple of good
properties,” Mr. Diaz said. “People don’t go to Cuba for the luxury —
they go for the music, culture and arts scene.”

But if Cuba opens up to American tourists and their penchant for luxury
accommodations, “you’re going to see American hoteliers doing their best
to find potential properties in Cuba,” Mr. Loucks said. “There are some
standout properties there in Havana and some of the beach communities.”

Q. What will be the impact of travelers being able to use United States
debit and credit cards in Cuba?

A: A positive one, Ms. Bonner said. “Being able to use credit cards will
make it so much easier,” she said. “Right now you have to think in
advance how much cash you need, and it can become quite an ordeal.”

The United States trade is still in place, and will be until
Congress says otherwise, but as a result of the administration’s policy
shift, “licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import
$400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of
tobacco products and alcohol combined,” the White House said. That’s
good news for Cuban cigar and rum aficionados returning to the United
States.

Q. What are other changes American visitors to Cuba can expect?

A. The administration has said it will re-establish a United States
Embassy in Havana, which could be widely embraced by American tour
operators and visitors to Cuba.

“Having a U.S. Embassy in a destination puts everyone’s mind at ease,”
Ms. Bonner said.

Getting connected to the is another change that could be coming
for visitors to the island. “Some hotels in Cuba don’t have Internet at
all,” Ms. Bonner said. According to the White House, “Cuba has an
Internet penetration of about 5 percent — one of the lowest rates in the
world.” Changes by the administration could help Cuba strengthen its
technological infrastructure. Ms. Bonner, though, said she is taking a
wait-and-see approach with this and the other measures outlined on
Wednesday.

“Nothing’s going to change because someone sent out a press release,”
she said.

Source: How Travel to Cuba May Change – NYTimes.com –
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/travel/how-travel-to-cuba-may-change.html

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