Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tauck Introduces Expanded Cuba Program

Tauck Introduces Expanded Cuba Program
PHOTO: Americans love Cuba as much as Cubans love American cars. (Photo by David Cogswell)

, the Norwalk, Conn.-based tour operator, unveiled a new longer and more intensive Cuba program that explores more of the country beyond Havana than its previous offering, which began operating in 2012.The consumer demand for Cuba continues to be voracious, and operators are competing fiercely for marketshare by enhancing and expanding already popular itineraries.
Tauck’s previous program, now discontinued, included six nights in Havana. The new expanded version includes three nights in Havana, two nights in Cayo Santa Maria, three nights in Camaguey, one night in Holguín and two nights in Santiago de Cuba.
Both the previous program and the current offering begin with one night at the Sofitel Miami in preparation for catching a charter flight to Havana the next morning.
The trip includes visits to the birthplace of Fidel and Raul Castro, the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara, the tomb of early champion of Cuba independence Jose Marti and many encounters with contemporary artists and musicians, as well as local people in various walks of life, such as fishermen and restaurant owners and operators.
According to Katharine Bonner, Tauck vice president, the customer responses to the previous itinerary were “fantastic,” but the company chose to expand the itinerary because, “We wanted to provide a richer and more diverse itinerary, and while the guests on our initial itinerary gave their experience very high marks, we learned in the process that there was a desire among our guests to see more of the country and gain an even deeper understanding of Cuban history and culture.”
In the U.S. Tour Operators Association’s recently released Packaged Travel Index, Cuba entered the top 10 on its Emerging Destinations list, debuting at No. 2, right under Myanmar, which has held the top position for three years.
Tour operators unanimously report that the demand for Cuba is of stellar dimension. Tauck is no exception.
“Our guests absolutely love Cuba,” said Bonner, “and it was their interest and their passion that prompted us to enhance our itinerary there.  The response to the new tour has been fantastic, and several of our early 2015 departures are already sold-out.”
The new program is priced from $7,465 double occupancy, not including airfare.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Marine Research

Diving With Turtles (and 

Scientists) in Cuba

Rubbing Shoulders with Marine Scientists in Cuba
Credit: Getty Images
The U.S. government grants special travel licenses for what it calls People-to-People trips, on which American tourists mingle with Cubans. Most such trips revolve around art or education, but the Miami-based Ocean Foundation’s Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program trips focus on science. One itinerary includes scuba diving and observing sea turtles on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula. This national park and UNESCO Biosphere Preserve on the western end of the island contains some of the Caribbean’s healthiest coral reefs and a three-mile long beach where 897 sea turtle nests were laid this summer.
The trips are led by sea turtle specialist Julia Azanza and coral biologist Patricia Gonzales, both of the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research. Azanza joined our group on an afternoon tour of the nesting beach, where during nesting season, students spend two-week shifts in a rustic camp, monitoring and collecting data. At night, the group watches as tiny heads pop out of the white sand, followed by front flippers churning to pull the rest of the palm-sized bodies onto the beach. A handful of hatchlings will suddenly burst out at once, clambering over each other and up the side of the nest, illustrating why scientists say a hatching nest is "boiling."
The next day, it's time to follow the turtles into the water. A three minute ride on the dive boat takes us to El Almirante, a coral reef starting at 30 feet deep where the variety and number of fish surpass that of most any dive site in the Northern Hemisphere. Cuba’s reefs look much as they did more than 50 years ago thanks to remoteness, decades with little tourism development, largely chemical-free agricultural practices, and the nation’s small population. Cuba also made an intentional commitment to protecting its environment.
The trip includes four days at the nearby resort, Maria la Gorda, time enough to enjoy the twice-daily dive outings as well as the beach peep show, seeing the park’s limestone caves, hiking to spot endemic birds like the bee hummingbird and brightly colored Cuban Tody, and swimming in a seaside sinkhole. 
More Info: The next Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program’s People-to-People trip in November focuses on coastal ecosystems and includes participation in the Christmas Bird Count. Another sea turtle and diving trip is scheduled for June, 2015. [$3,420,]

Read more: 

The Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program’s mission is to: build sound scientific collaboration between Cuba, the United States and neighboring countries that share marine resources; establish locally-supported marine research and conservation programs; contribute to the scientific understanding of the region's natural resources; conserve Cuba’s marine ecosystems; and  empower the next generation of Cuban marine scientists. 
Isla de la Juventud
Punta Francés, Isla de la Juventud
Elkhorn coral garden (Acropora palmata) in northwest Cuba
Nesting Green sea turtle at Guanahacabibes National Park
For the first time in five decades US travelers are legally permitted to travel to Cuba. In early 2014, The Ocean Foundation received its license from the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control to engage US residents in educational travel to Cuba. Our trips ensure a fully supervised, full time agenda of activities that allow US citizens to interact with Cuban marine scientists, policymakers, fishers and urban and rural residents. Our license allows travelers to legally experience Cuba's natural riches above and below the water, and our trips also provide a unique  platform to discuss environmental, social and economic issues shared by both countries.

The Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program organizes itineraries of one to two weeks in duration. We work with a range of travel providers such as Avalon Cuban Diving Centers, Marazul Charters, and Holbrook Travel. Our trips are led by CMRC staff or paid contractors to The Ocean Foundation.

We invite you to explore wild areas in Cuba seen by few American tourists. Destinations include the reefs of the Isle of Youth, Guanahacabibes National Park and biosphere reserve, remote archipelagos off the main island of Cuba, the ecologically and historically famous Zapata Swamp, as well as the bustling city of Havana. For more information, email or visit this page for future itineraries.

Upcoming Trips
Learn about Cuba's coastal ecosystems and participate in a Christmas Bird Count across the island's coastline. 

Dates: December 13-22, 2014
On this 10-day journey, work with Cuban citizen scientists to help tally birds while learning about Cuba’s diverse coastal ecosystems and ongoing conservation efforts. As you engage with community members, gain a more in-depth understanding of this Caribbean island’s people and their daily way of life. This is only the second Christmas Bird Count organized in Cuba, following a citizen science effort and tradition over 100 years old!
Here is a detailed trip itinerary.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gardens of the Queen: Caribbean’s Last Pristine Coral Reefs

 | June 21, 2014 9:10 am |
[Editor's note: Conor Kennedy traveled this summer to Cuba to dive the Gardens of the Queen, one of the most pristine marine environments in the Caribbean, to conduct ecological assessments of the coral reef ecosystem with Ocean Doctor. This is Part I of a five-part series. Read Part IIPart III andPart IV.]
ckennedyI’m in Havana getting ready for an early morning trip to the Gardens of the Queen, the archipelago and reef complex 60 miles south of Central Cuba in the rich intersection where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico meet those of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Theexpedition sponsors are Ocean Doctor and The Explorers Club. Our mission is to gather data on the Caribbean’s last pristine reef system.

The Gardens of the Queen is 60 miles south of Central Cuba in the rich intersection where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico meet those of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
The Gardens of the Queen is 60 miles south of Central Cuba in the rich intersection where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico meet those of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

Today we met with former President Fidel Castro, who was an early and passionate advocate for protecting the reef. Castro told us that he had fished and dove the extraordinary reef over its entire 60 mile length. He began by telling us the history of a famous battle that took place on the reef in the War of Independence against Spain when an entire Spanish fleet was sunk by armored American war ships. His father came to Cuba as a Spanish soldier during that conflict.
He also told us about his personal evolution as an environmentalist. He began as an avid marlin and spear fisherman who slaughtered many marine species on the reef, assuming the oceans were infinite and could never be depleted. He next told us of an island rookery covered with Central American pigeons called torcaso palomas which he slaughtered with a shotgun and ate with great relish until he almost died after being poisoned by the toxic bark of the trees in which these pigeons roosted. Shortly after killing the doves he met with marine conservationist Jacques Cousteau. That meeting helped transform Castro into a committed environmentalist. He has committed to preserve 25 percent of Cuba’s waters from extractive fishing as Marine Preserves, while the U.S. lags, preserving less than 2 percent of our coastal waters.

Me with my dad and brother Aidan in Havana, Cuba.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Florida Aquarium team to travel to Cuba

Oct 13, 2014, 11:29am EDT
Courtesy of CENTURY 21 Beggins Enterprises

StaffTampa Bay Business Journal
Members of the Florida AquariumFoundation will travel to Havana, Cuba to hold meetings with the National Aquarium of Cuba.
The Cuban aquarium is looking to build a research partnership with a U.S. counterpart, but the Florida Aquarium has not stated publicly whether it is interested in such an arrangement, the Tampa Tribunesaid. The trip is expected to stretch from next Tuesday to Sunday.
“This is an educational mission,” said Tom Hall, foundation chairman who will travel on the trip. “We want to talk about what we do, hear what they do, and then compare notes. I’ll know more when we get back.”
According to Jeffrey Boutwell of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in Washington, D.C., the Cuban aquarium wants to create a relationship with a U.S. aquarium on issues of mutual interest including minimizing the effects of oil spills and protecting populations of fish including marlin and tuna, the Tribune said.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Prospects for Private Boat Travel

Marina industry group plans trip to Cuba

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Amadeus Booking Software in Cuba

Pioneer Travel Software Introduced in CubaPDFImprimirE-Mail
Havana, Sep 30 (Prensa Latina) Amadeus travel agency, started today in Cuba a pioneer travel software that includes booking for inland transportation, through a project with Viazul and Cubana de Aviación, and the collaboration of Iberia.
Viazul, the main bus company with regular service in this country, will assume from Tuesday the implementation of a system of inventory control, distribution, check-in and issuing e-tickets, which benefits the tourism industry in the archipelago.

This electronic booking mechanism covers all Viazul national routes. The project consists of two phases and includes system processes, the provision of the initial basic equipment for inland terminals and Viazul Booking Center (CR), besides the training of the operations staff and technicians in terminals.

This plan includes access to the system from all travel agencies which are clients of Amadeus in Cuba.

The second phase is scheduled for 2015 and includes the distribution of Viazul routes through a shared code with Cubana de Aviación for all travel agencies worldwide.

The deputy director general of Omnibus Nacionales, Alberto Ramos, told reporters that through Amadeus network, all Cuban travel agencies will be able to make Viazul bookings electronically.

This project aims to develop destinations within the country (to place them on the world tourism map) and save time and steps for Viazul.

Amadeus, created in the 1980s, has about 10 thousand employees and offices in Madrid, Nice and Erding, with 71 commercial organizations. Viazul is a transport dependency of Omnibus Nacionales created in Cuba in 1996.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Labor Tour November 16-22

Invitation to Join a Labor Tour of Cuba: November 16th - November 22nd (8/15/14)

We are putting together a seven-day, six night tour of Cuba for senior staff and local leaders at various U.S. labor unions.  The tour will concentrate on the current economic reforms and their impact on Cuban workers.  It will also explore how Cuban trade unions are trying to deal with these massive changes.  Finally, we will get a real education on how the U.S. blockade impacts Cuba and how it also impacts the United States.

We would like to invite you to join this exciting trip tentatively scheduled for November 16th through November 22nd.  A maximum of fifteen (and a minimum of 10) people will join the tour that is sponsored and organized by Disarm Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that has a U.S. government license to conduct people-to-people tours of Cuba.  The tour will be lead by Bob Schwartz, Director of Disarm Education Fund and Michael Locker, President of Locker Associates. 

Undoubtedly you will learn a lot from this experience, and you could possibly use this knowledge in your work moving forward.  The Revolution is now 55 years old and, as you probably know, Cuba is currently undergoing major economic and social changes, experimenting with new ways to improve their weak economy and incorporating private ownership in their restructuring efforts.  As you might expect, Cuban workers from every occupation are undergoing difficult changes as these government reforms are being instituted. 

Moreover, Cuba is still confronted with a total U.S. economic blockade, cutting the country off from all forms of U.S. commerce and investment.  In our opinion this illegal and unjust blockade should be immediately lifted, first because of the massive damage to the Cuban people and their economy and second because it actually hurts the U.S. economy.  By blockading Cuba, the U.S. government has eliminated significant exports from the United States, thereby weakening the U.S. economy and employment opportunities.

More specifically, the purpose of the trip is to explore:
·     The rapidly changing Cuban reality.
·     The role of Cuban unions and workers in restructuring their economy.
·     The role of Cuban cooperatives in restructuring their economy.
·     The impact of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the United States.
·     How the end of the U.S. embargo would affect the U.S. economy and U.S. workers.
·     How to involve U.S. unions and labor leaders in ending the Cuban embargo.

Tentative activities during the trip include:
·     Meet with national and local union leaders of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC).
·     Open discussion with the Cuban Communist Party on key political questions.
·     Visit two traditional work centers, including a one day trip to Cienfuegos.
·     Visit two new co-operative work centers.
·     Visit the new port of Mariel.
·     Visit a school or daycare center.
·     Visit a health clinic.
·     Presentation & discussion on the Cuban economy with a Cuban economist.
·     Presentation & discussion on the US embargo and its impact on Cuba with an expert.
·     Meet with the Catholic Church.
·     Tour Old Havana where major restoration has occurred.  
·     Meet with professors and administrators at the University of Havana.
·     Experience diverse cultural activities including music, dance, theater, etc.

This trip will cost about $3,000.  This will include roundtrip airfare from Miami to Havana, transportation services inside Cuba, accommodations at a first-class hotel, breakfast every morning, two lunches and two dinners at excellent restaurants, translation and a guide.  Transportation to and from Miami is not included and must be arranged for and paid by you.

See the attached Fact Sheet for further details on the tour.

If you are interested in applying for this tour fill out the attached questionnaire and return it no later than July 31, 2014 to:

Michael Locker
Locker Associates
225 Broadway, Suite 2625
New York, NY 10007

If you have any questions please call or email Michael Locker at 212-962-2980 or