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Cuban tour operators jumping to meet new US demand
MENAFN – AFP – 22/01/2015

(MENAFN – AFP) Cuban tour operators are gearing up for an explosion of
US travelers — adding a spate of tours focused on everything from
architecture to art to gourmet — following the recent detente
between the two long-time Cold War rivals.
company InsightCuba, one of the top agencies specializing in
visits to the Communist-run island, now offers a six-day jaunt to Havana
and Matanzas to listen to jazz and meet the musicians.

Cuban-American chef Douglas Rodriguez, lives in Miami, meanwhile, has 20
spots available for travelers who want to be immersed “in Cuba’s
contemporary art and culinary scene” in Havana and elsewhere on the
island, with “interactions and discussions with artists and chefs.”

Washington last week announced it was lifting a series of commercial and
travel restrictions as part of the historic rapprochement with Cuba
after a half-century and diplomatic relations ruptured since 1961.

But although travelers will no longer be required to seek authorization
before embarking for Havana, the trips remain restricted — so tourists
can’t just hop on a plane hoping to sip mojitos on the beach.

Instead, travel to the island must fit into one of 12 categories,
including family visits, research, journalism, , religion, or
cultural exchange.

Travel agents say they are already seeing a strong increase in demand
for the Cuba tours.

“The phone has not stopped ringing,” said Collin Laverty, director of
Cuba Educational Travel, speaking by phone from Cuba.

Since the company started operating three years ago, it has brought
5,000 people to Cuba. Laverty said they hope to match that number this
year alone.

“We are getting all these emails from people saying ‘I want to get there
before McDonald’s’,” he said, noting that two US groups were expected
this week.

“We added 70 tour dates after Obama’s announcement … in response to
the demand,” added Tom Popper, of Insight Cuba.

– ‘Throw away stereotypes’ –

Any rise in on the island will be hampered by a lack of
infrastructure, which is already at maximum capacity, tour operators.

However, the travel agents say this actually provides an opportunity —
motivating them to approach residents to help fill the gaps.

“These tours, what they do, is to get people of both countries together,
and they learn about each others culture, history and way of living, and
that leads to respect,” said Silvia Wilhelm, president of CubaPuentes, a
Texas travel agency specializing in cultural and architectural tours in
Cuba.

“You throw away all these stereotypes that both people have been hearing
from each other for 50 plus years,” she said.

But not everyone is happy to see travel between the United States and
Cuba increase. Some say that injecting fresh capital into the island’s
will only help the Castro government hold on to power.

“This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its
repression against Cubans, as well as its activities against US national
interests in Latin America and beyond,” said Cuban-American Senator
Marco Rubio, shortly after the new rules were announced.

Source: Cuban tour operators jumping to meet new US demand | MENAFN.COM

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