Why Cuba isn't ready for American tourists just yet
Serena Marshall, ABC
For the first time in more than 50 years, America’s neighbor only 90 miles away could finally be open for American tourists.
A group of bipartisan senators proposed legislation last week that would end the travel ban between the U.S. and Cuba, and today a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by senator and son of Cuban immigrants, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will hold a hearing on how the new policy changes might impact human rights and democracy on the island.
But is Cuba ready?
“There’s obviously a desire by the big airlines, Kayak, Orbitz, the others travel institutions to get more involved, but still a lot of red tape,” Collin Laverty, President and Owner of Cuba Educational Travel told ABC News. “There is still some reporting and some oversight which stifles what could actually happen.”
President Obama’s December announcement of easing restrictions meant if you fell into one of the previously approved groups traveling to Cuba -business, journalism, or cultural exchange, for example, you could now go much easier.
But with that executive order visitors still have to qualify for one of the twelve groups, and travel is restricted from “tourism” meaning no sun and sand vacations.
“One significant change would be under the current regulation you can’t really do -sun and sand tourism. You can’t just go to the beach,” Laverty said. “Cuba does have a lot of hotels in Varadero, Santa Maria Key, Cayo Coco, beach locations.”
“If the travel ban were lifted altogether that’d make it really, really clear there are no restrictions -all the big players would move really quickly to start offering Cuba travel,” Laverty said. “That would be transformational.”
Major players like MasterCard and American Express have already announced they would begin allowing their cards to be used in Cuba, and Kayak said travelers can now search hotel and flight information.
“We have seen significant interest in travel to Cuba,” said Steve Hafner, chief executive officer and co-founder, KAYAK said in a press release. “Our goal is to provide comprehensive information for travelers – whether they are planning a trip to Cuba or anywhere else in the world.”
While travelers can now search for Cuba there are still no booking links available showing the red tape still blocking way to free travel.
With the legislation introduced to Congress -if passed, would mean anyone, at any time, and for any reason could visit Cuba just like any other destination in the world.
“You’d still have to get a Visa from Cuba, so I think they would analyze... what’s our infrastructure and how many people can we handle… they would do an assessment in terms of capacity,” Laverty said, adding visa travel limits are normal for many countries, including Costa Rica, which limits the amount of landing permits issued to airlines.
Tom Popper, President of InsightCuba and one of the first to send American groups to Cuba under the people-to-people tours tells ABC News tourism has been developing around the peninsula part of the island for many years.
“If you keep going east along the northern coast, Varadero, there is space there,” Popper told ABC News, explaining that while it is currently not the destination for Americans due to restriction, once opened people would head to the beaches and “those destinations would be open and ready to receive American tourists.”
“Certainly paying hotel rooms and taxes and landing fees, and certainly revenue from that goes to government, but when you have Americans go into a city, go to bar, go to restaurant, somebody selling a craft on street, there’s an opportunity for people to improve their economic situation,” Popper said.
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