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report | cuba


About 400,000 of those are Cuban Americans, while between 100,000 and 125,000 are US licensed and people-to-people travelers, making the US the second biggest market after Canada. If restrictions are eased, clearly many more


Americans would be going to Cuba, but whether the hotel, transportation and tour guide infrastructure could handle the thousands of extra visitors is anyone’s guess, since no studies have been done. Tanks to Canadians and Europeans, many of whom favor Cuba as a beach destination, there’s an ample number of beach resorts, but American travelers would likely still be more interested in exploring Cuba’s culture than spending a week at the beach.


Regardless of the infrastructure, Americans


will want to go to Cuba, and several organizations in Washington are working to help make that a reality. Te NGO Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is one of these and has operated a Cuba program since 1995. While there are Republicans in the house in favor


of lifting the ban, the Republican position is largely dominated by conservative Cuban Americans, but it’s possible we’ll see movement in the Senate. “Tere have been at least three delegations of senators who’ve traveled to Cuba recently,” says Geoff Tale, WOLA’s program director. Another group, the Latin American Working Group, a coalition of 65 non-profit organizations,


has been working to end the ban for decades. But from what they’ve observed, there’s not going to be a vote in the House of Representatives to lift the travel ban any time soon. Right now their focus is on the administration.


“We’re working with the president, who has the authority to issue a general license, which means no advance permission would be needed for all groups legally allowed to go to Cuba,” says Mavis Anderson, the organization’s senior associate specializing in Cuba. Tat would make it much easier for


organizations and tour operators to operate their programs and, as a result, potentially increase travel to Cuba. n


Classic car in Havana


CONSUMER OPINION


In December 2013, Friendly Planet Travel conducted a survey of clients who’d been to Cuba, with results showing that people-to- people programs had a profound impact: n 74% went because they were curious about what life is like in Cuba. n 3% said it drew them closer to the people and culture of Cuba. n 88% said that after visiting Cuba they were more supportive of dropping US sanctions. n 96% said they always felt safe in Cuba. n 78% said the most surprising thing they discovered was the Cuban people’s openness and friendliness toward American visitors. n 81% said they would travel to Cuba again.


CASESTUDY


FRIENDLY PLANET TRAVEL The operator secured its first license for people- to-people travel to Cuba in September 2011 and began tours the following January. It’s since taken between 3,000 and 3,500 people. Although it offers packages to destinations


worldwide, Cuba is one of Friendly Planet’s five most popular destinations, according to company president Peggy Goldman. The company offers three itineraries. A


six-day package concentrates on Havana. A seven-day package comprises Havana and a stay at a beach resort in Varadero, with visits to schools and farms. A nine-day tour visits a


variety of places, including Havana; the colonial city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and the small fishing village of Cojimar, which served as the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Clients going to Cuba with Friendly


Planet Travel are particularly diverse, says Goldman. “Because of the cost of the trip, the demographic is just a little bit older,” she says. “But we’ve had people in their 30s and


we recently had someone who’s 89. We have doctors, we have truck drivers. It’s a heterogeneous group of people curious to see what life is like in Cuba.” friendlyplanet.com


62 | ASTAnetwork | summer 2014


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