Eased travel to
"There are a bunch of people who are trying to visit 100 countries
before they die," Louis explained. "This is number 92 for
Country No. 92 for the Waterers is
But up until a few years ago, even for intrepid travelers like the Waterers,
After Fidel Castro took power in 1959,
But after decades of false starts, the Obama administration has reinstituted
legal travel to
It's called "people-to-people" travel, and like nearly everything
"Each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange
activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the
travelers and individuals in
And while the policy has kicked off a debate over what is a
"meaningful" exchange, a flood of tour operators has entered
the still uncertain world of travel to
Americans interested in visiting
Under the Treasury guidelines, tour operators have to plan nearly every
moment of the trip, and "people-to-people" travel, at least
in theory, excludes relaxing by the pool with umbrella-topped
Most Americans heading to
"The fact that we are bringing Americans and Cubans together is an
incredible thing," Popper said. "It's a travel experience
for the Americans, it's an incredible thing for Cubans. Some people in
People-to-people travel isn't cheap or easy, though.
A four-night "Weekend in
Popper said the high cost of the trips is due to the fact that operators
need to send guides with their groups to make sure they comply with
the travel regulations, and that renewing the yearly
This summer, many tour operators wondered if people-to-people travel was
ending altogether, after the Treasury Department started denying
licenses to operators or simply not responding to renewal requests.
Several tour operators contacted by CNN said that the process may have
gotten bogged down by the fact that the renewal application is now
close to 200 pages and requires that the operators explain how each
stop on the itinerary fosters greater friendship between Americans and
"You are doing what you are supposed to be doing and they are changing
the rules as we go. The guidelines are so vague," said Michael
Sykes, who ran the now-defunct Cuba Cultural Tours.
Sykes laid off four employees after his license expired in July and he was
denied a renewal.
"The language is so cryptic and so bureaucratic," he said.
"Your average Joe isn't able to do this -- you have to understand
the secret language."
Sykes has now hired what he calls a "bloody expensive" lawyer to
guide him through the process, and he is hopeful that he will be back
to planning trips to
Some of the tour operators said they thought the logjam of licenses was
caused by political pressure, particularly from Sen. Marco Rubio,
R-Florida, who is Cuban-American and a fierce critic of the trips
"What these trips are all about is tourism -- it's tourism," Rubio
said on the Senate floor last year. "The reason why this is
problematic is it gives money to the Castro government."
Jeff Braunger, a Treasury Department official in charge of the
"We revised the license application criteria to stress to applicants
the seriousness of the requirements of the people-to-people licensing
program, in part because of reports we received concerning travel
under the licenses," Braunger wrote.
But some tour operators said travel to
"It's supposed to be people-to-people, not people-to-fish," the
And there are also complications on the Cuban side, tour operators said.
Last month, the Cuban government abruptly canceled the landing rights
for two of the
But most of the tour operators said the headaches are worth the opportunity
to get in early on American tourism to
"We are back in operations and hope to stay that way," Insight
On a trip organized by Insight
Michael Pettit, a lawyer from
The politics and uncertainty over continued travel between
"One of the reasons I came again is because you never know when you
might be able to come legally."
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