Wednesday, August 31, 2011

National Geographic Tours Begin in November

National Geographic Expeditions to Launch Cuba Program in November

By David Cogswell
August 30, 2011 9:59 PM
National Geographic Expeditions will start its trips to Cuba with a departure Nov. 26 to Dec. 5. Two more departures are scheduled for December and nine more are scheduled January through May of 2012. The trips are licensed under the U.S. Treasury Department as People-to-People trips, and will have a focus on meeting and interacting with Cuban people, with meetings arranged between American visitors and Cuban farmers, teachers, artists, teachers, Santería priests, park rangers and veterans.
Some of the departures will be accompanied by Christopher Baker, a photographer and the author of “National Geographic Traveler: Cuba.” Baker said he has been waiting for a long time for the opportunity to take Americans to Cuba. “This expedition is something that I have been excited about ever since I started engaging with the Geographic several years ago. I’ve waited with great anticipation for the day when this would become possible, not least because I love Cuba, I come alive in Cuba, and I’m always thrilled to share what’s unique about Cuba with the people I take there.”
Americans have a “pent-up” energy to see Cuba, Baker said, and “a tremendous desire to understand a place that has been off limits for so long and that remains a mystery for so many.”
The itinerary includes an opportunity to learn about the restoration of Old Havana and Trinidad from local preservationists, to visit the Bay of Pigs with Cuban veterans, and to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigía. Throughout the journey, visitors will exchange ideas and experiences relating to art, education, religion, history and conservation. The 10-day/nine-night itinerary is priced $4,995 per person double. For information,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A & K Gives Up

A&K scraps Cuba tours after reviewing new U.S. regulations

By Gay Nagle Myers
Abercrombie & Kent canceled its Cuba program for U.S. travelers after reviewing a government advisory clarifying new regulations for Cuba travel.

The advisory, issued on July 25 by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, cautioned that while some regulations have expanded, “the amended regulations still contain significant travel restrictions.”

OFAC said that licenses are granted only to “people-to-people groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities between the travelers and Cubans.”

A&K said it is in the process of contacting travel agents and their clients to inform them of the program’s cancellation.

A&K announced its Cuba program on July 19 and suspended it on Aug. 1 to review OFAC's clarification. A&K had planned to offer six Cuba trips this year.

The U.K.-based operator has offered non-Americans custom and group tours in Cuba for five years.

Abercrombie & Kent Cancels Cuba Program Due to New Rules

By David Cogswell
August 30, 2011 1:12 PM
In the wake of a new set of regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) July 25, Abercrombie & Kent has discontinued its Cuba program. The company is currently in the process of calling travel agents and customers to inform them of the change.
OFAC had amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations in January 2011 to expand licensing of travel to Cuba for certain educational exchange programs to promote contact with the Cuban people. A&K set up an arrangement with an OFAC-licensed foundation (the Foundation for Caribbean Studies) that sponsors and organizes educational and people-to-people travel to Cuba.
A&K put its Cuba program up for sale July 19 and sold most of its departures in a week. But on July 25, OFAC issued a Cuba Travel Advisory, intended to clarify the intent of the regulations and elaborate on the requirements for tour operators that facilitate travel to Cuba. A&K put its clients on notice that plans were suspended pending further clarification. Now A&K has decided to cancel its new Cuba program.
When the new statement was issued by OFAC on July 25, it stipulated that third-party relationships are prohibited, so there could be no commissions for travel agents.
“Once it became clear that OFAC advisory does not envision a role for travel agents, we decided to cancel our scheduled departure.” said Pamela Lassers, A&K’s director of media relations. “There was no clarity around the situation, and rather than continue to delay, we canceled because the departures were coming up soon.”

My posted comment:

It is very sad that politically motivated bureaucratic obstacles in Washington have led to A & K's cancellation rather than modification of its program.

There is nothing inconsistent with US national interest in what they were trying to achieve. In fact, visits by their high end clientele would have benefited improved understanding in both countries.

I hope they show the generosity of spirit to refer their clients to Insight Cuba which has been licensed to offer programs that are not fundamentally different than A & K's offerings.

John McAuliff Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Friday, August 26, 2011

A & K and Globus Not Giving Up


Globus and A&K are working to restore their 2012 Cuba tours after a U.S. government clampdown forced the operators to pull their people-to-people tours from the market just days after announcing them.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control slammed tour operators for launching Cuba programs after the Globus and A&K announcements received wide coverage, including in the consumer press.

On July 25, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a travel advisory citing “misstatements in the media suggesting that U.S. foreign policy, as implemented by OFAC, now allows for virtually unrestricted group travel to Cuba.” The advisory noted that only OFAC-authorized “travel service providers” are permitted to operate people-to-people group trips.

Operators: ‘We complied’Both Globus and A&K said their programs complied with OFAC’s guidelines for people-to-people programs and religious group travel.

“We were above board on everything,” said Globus’ Mike A. Schields, managing director, groups and emerging markets.

Licensed travel service providers for Cuba must certify that “all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba,” according to the OFAC. “Tourist activities” are not authorized activities, the advisory stated.

Trip operators are permitted to contract with OFAC-authorized providers.

Guidelines not clearIndustry members thought they understood what was permissible after regulations were relaxed in January, but the July 25 advisory has muddled the picture, Paul Ruden, ASTA’s senior vice president for legal and industry affairs, told Travel Market Report.
Paul Ruden
“Hopefully, there will be additional guidance in the near future that will more precisely define what types of activities are permitted and not permitted under the new regulations,” Ruden said.

ASTA has not published guidelines for travel agents regarding travel to Cuba, he added.

Payment processing an issue
At Globus, “what really threw a wrinkle” into its Cuba plans was OFAC’s rule stipulating that travel agents and tour operators that don’t hold a license cannot collect funds, Schields told Travel Market Report.

“The real problem is that most of the travel service providers that hold the licenses are small operations – one or two people – that cannot process payments” in the volume the Globus program would generate, said Schields.
Serious about religious toursGlobus was planning a religious program to Cuba. “Since Globus has had a religious travel division for many years, we were uniquely qualified to offer these programs. We are still pursuing this,” Schields said. “We look forward to the day when the licenses are cleared.”

Globus is serious about its religious tours – they are not just pro-forma to comply with OFAC rules, Schields said.

Globus had partnered with the Center for Caribbean Religion & Culture to offer an itinerary focused on the religious history of Cuba.

Abercrombie & Kent partnered with the Foundation for Caribbean Studies to create an itinerary that focuses on Cuba’s economic development, specifically as it relates to agriculture.

The operator is waiting for the OFAC to provide further clarity on its latest advisory regarding authorized travel to Cuba, an A&K spokesperson said.

Preferential treatment for Florida firms?Meanwhile, a leading advocate for lifting restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba has accused the Obama Administration of giving preferential treatment to the mostly Florida-based companies that have been authorized as travel service providers for Cuba.

“Travel agents need to push the White House to end discriminatory treatment by doing away with the special status of mostly Florida travel service providers,” said John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. McAuliff’s group is a not-for-profit organization that advocates normalizing relations with Cuba, Cambodia and Laos.

Politics at play
The OFAC’s Cuba travel advisory was probably political, said McAuliff, echoing the opinion of several tour executives who spoke on condition of anonymity. Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is opposed to lifting travel restrictions to Cuba and he wields considerable power, they noted.

The Cuban political establishment in South Florida, which is important to President Obama’s re-election, is also vocal in its opposition to lifting the restrictions.

Menendez issued a scathing statement attacking the administration’s easing of Cuba travel restrictions in January. Menendez is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

Pessimistic on Cuba travel
One tour operator licensed to provide religious programs to Cuba, Ya’lla Tours, is not optimistic about free travel to Cuba.

“I don’t think there will be free travel to Cuba,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours. “It means Congress has to change the law, and I do not see that happening.

“The saddest thing is that if the purpose of embargo was to get rid of Castro, it  has failed. After 52 years, maybe we should try some other means of influencing Cuba.”

‘Great opportunity’Schields called Cuba a great opportunity for the tour industry and for travel agents. He described the destination as unspoiled and uniquely interesting – “a Galapagos of people.”
More than a half-million Cuban-Americans visited the Caribbean nation in 2010, according to Paldi.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Private Restaurant Focused People to People Trip

Newark company brings Delaware Valley to Cuba
Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 1:18 PM CDT

Creative Travel, Inc of Newark, DE in association with The Center for the Study of Cuban Culture & Economy LLC (The Center), has developed a first-of-its-kind program to bring people from the Delaware Valley to Cuba under the People to People exchange program. Creative Travel, Inc and The Center are the first to delve into the culinary aspects between the two countries and promote the communication between the people of Cuba and our Delmarva region.

The 8-day program will take people from NYC to Havana where they will meet with local Cubans who have opened their own restaurants or cafés and have the opportunity to meet with those people and their chefs in a rare new program that gave the Cuban people the opportunity to be part of free enterprise and even in some cases hire their own employees. The trip will take participants to some of the best private restaurants and local attractions in Havana before heading farther into the countryside and to the towns of Cienfuegos and Trinidad, Cuba.

Bob Older of Creative Travel, Inc said "We are proud to be one of the first travel agencies in the country to offer this unique opportunity to see a wonderful country and meet their people that have come such a long way."

Throughout the trip, travelers will meet with some of the people who have left the security of their jobs to open businesses in Cuba and some of the best chefs in the country and taste their amazing offerings at the restaurants and paladares- small private home restaurants. The Center specializes in studying private entrepreneurship.

Joseph L. Scarpaci, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Cuban Culture & Economy LLC will take the group on a special tour for a day in Havana and present a targeted lecture to the group. Scarpaci said, "We are happy to partner with Creative Travel, Inc and show this unique side of the private sector of Cuba to the American People. I think both sides will come away with a completely different perspective of what they thought they knew about each other."

The trip will also feature three UNESCO World Heritage sites about which Scarpaci has written extensively. Travelers will also visit a private farmer's market, Cuba's most famous ice cream parlor, a local library (where each traveler will have a chance to donate a cookbook to the center), local farms, Cuban music and art, and a special lobster meal and pig roast hosted by local private farmers.

This first trip is scheduled for November 12-19, 2011 and is limited to only 30 people.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

October Orientation Trip to Cuba for Foreign Study Staff and Faculty

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development is planning an orientation and familiarization trip in mid-October for overseas study staff and potential faculty trip leaders who wish to undertake short term programs in Cuba during the coming academic year.

Under the new regulations, any tertiary institution that is considering creating a program which grants credit to its students can send full or part time administrative staff or professors to Cuba to prepare it.  All that is required is a credentialing letter from an official of the school.  (text of regulations below)

The structure of the program is still being worked on in Havana but we hope to have it and costs available before the end of August.  The dates are October 15 to 23 which includes Havana, Matanzas and Cardenas.  A  four day supplemental trip will offer visits to Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. 

Because of new charter flights, departures will be available from Chicago (on Friday), New York and Miami (on Saturday).
For updates on the Cuba orientation program contact John McAuliff, Fund for Reconciliation and Development,

OFAC legal requirements

To participate you must qualify for the general license and carry the letter described in guidelines issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control on April 19, 2011
“Section 515.565(a) sets forth a general license authorizing accredited U.S. graduate and undergraduate degree-granting academic institutions, including faculty, staff, and students of such institutions, to engage in travel-related transactions and such additional transactions that are directly incident to:

(a)(1) Participation in a structured educational program in Cuba as part of a course offered for credit by the sponsoring U.S. academic institution; …

 (a)(6) The organization of, and preparation for, activities described in (a)(1)-(5) above by
members of the faculty and staff of the sponsoring U.S. academic institution.”

“It is a requirement of the general license that travelers to Cuba authorized pursuant to this provision carry letters on official letterhead signed by a designated representative of the sponsoring academic institution (defined as a person designated by the relevant dean or the academic vicepresident, provost, or president of the institution as the official responsible for overseeing the institution’s Cuba travel program).”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Favorable Cuban coverage of Insight Cuba's inaugural trip

US Visitors Extol Cuban Socio-Cultural ProjectsPDFPrintE-mail
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 16:01
Pinar del Río, Cuba, Aug 17.- A group of US visitors are scheduled to wind up on Wednesday a tour of Pinar del Rio, in western Cuba, where they have witnessed progress made in socio-cultural projects and visited communities and world heritage sites. 
"I am very excited with this visit that allow us to know the Cuban people directly," said Valentina Sbarrow, a marketing specialist of the Insight Cuba agency.

A program designed to teach people with Down Syndrome how to engrave was known by the US visitors, who came to Cuba as part of a trip approved by the US Government, despite a travel ban to visit the Island remains in force.

Founded over a decade ago, the program revealed the hidden talent of children and youngsters with Down Syndrome, who have been granted recognition in international contests.

"We are in favour of eliminating Cuba travel restrictions," said Sbarrow during a meeting with residents of the historical center of Vinales, declared by UNESCO as a World Landscape Heritage.

In Vinales, the visitors showed interest in knowing details about how the children and the elderly are taken care of by educational and health institutions, as well as in benefits of the health system for residents in the area, 99 miles west of Havana.

"This is an opportunity to get closer to Cubans, their culture, and to come not only as tourists but as friends," said Steve Azer, another visitor who arrived a few days ago in an inaugural trip approved by the US Government.

The US friends also took boat rides inside Cueva del Indio, a stalactite cave with an underground river.

The tour also included a stop at Los Jazmines viewpoint, with a superb view of the Vinales Valley, characterized by its Jurassic large limestone, dome-like rounded mogotes and its plowed land ready for tobacco plantations.

This tour of western Cuba will also include Las Terrazas community, in the neighboring Artemisa province, where they will know the results of a one-of-a- kind rural sustainable development project based on tourism.

Another group of the 30-member US delegation have visited other Cuban provinces after their arrival to Havana, where they met with promoters and beneficiaries of a program aimed at providing rehabilitation services to blind people. (Prensa Latina).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Americans in Cuba under easier U.S. travel rules

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - The first group of Americans to tour Cuba under new, more liberal U.S. travel regulations have been greeted by hugs, handshakes and a welcoming Cuban government, according to a trip organizer.
The 30 travelers are pioneers in a new era of "people-to-people" exchanges the Obama administration approved in January to "enhance the free flow of information" to Cubans and over the objections of those who favor a hardline against the communist government.
About 30 to 35 travel groups are believed to have obtained licenses so far under the new regulations, which reinstate rules put in place by President Bill Clinton in 1999, but revoked by his successor, President George W. Bush in 2003.
The first group of travelers have been to orphanages, medical facilities, art museums, music performances and tobacco farms and have walked the streets of Old Havana in a first taste of the forbidden fruit that Cuba has been for five decades under the U.S. trade embargo against the country.
Their reactions, said Tom Popper of Insight Cuba, the travel agency bringing in the group, have varied widely.
"Some people are amazed by what they see and astonished by the people and the culture and everything around them," he told Reuters this week.
"And some people feel horrible that getting coffee is a struggle and food stuff is hard (to find) and that there's two economies and that a doctor has to drive a taxi to supplement his income," Popper said.
He described an emotional visit to a facility for the blind where 40 people awaited the group and applauded their arrival.
"They had a presentation, a couple of them played music, they danced together," Popper said. "People hugged. There were tears everywhere. It was just beautiful."
Such exchanges, he said, "make a difference in Americans and make a difference in Cubans. So I just hope maybe one day they can see the value in what we're doing."
"They" are the U.S. politicians and others, mostly Cuban exiles, who oppose rapprochement with the government led by President Raul Castro and believe American travel to Cuba helps the communist system whose fall they have awaited for 50 years.
They have fought to preserve that part of the embargo which prevented almost all Americans from going to Cuba and out of which the new regulations take a big bite, according to John McAuliff, who as head of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development advocates for better U.S.-Cuba relations.
"In principle, the president's January announcement means virtually any American with a serious interest in Cuba can visit," he said.
Among other things, the new regulations permit Americans to go to Cuba through travel agencies such as Insight Cuba that obtain a U.S. license to conduct "purposeful travel," which means it must be educational and interactive with Cubans.
"No beaches," said Popper.
The tourists were spread out across Cuba this week, but upon arrival last Thursday, one participant extolled the virtues of the travel opening.
"It's marvelous that more people can come here because of the fact that it's people to people rather than government to government. I think people have a way of coming to terms with an awful lot of trouble that governments can't do," said the man who, in a possible bow to political sensitivities, identified himself as James Bond.
Popper said the Cuban government has helped set up events for the group, including sessions with officials who took "very strong questions" from the group.
Critics have charged they will get a sanitized view of Cuba, but Popper disagreed. "There's no sugarcoating," he said.
The cash-strapped Cuban government welcomes more Americans because tourism is a major money earner for the island, but also because it gets a chance to change perceptions.
"I think they believe that since their politicians are not able to work out anything diplomatic, each person who goes back to the United States has a new and different perspective," Popper said.
It appears to work, because he said most visitors leave saying "Cuban life isn't as bad as I thought."
McAuliff estimated that a maximum of 100,000 Americans will go to Cuba this year under the new rules.
Cuban-American members of the U.S. Congress already have proposed legislation to roll back the regulations, so it remains to be seen how long the freer travel will last.
"It will make a real difference in attitudes in both countries if fully implemented, which is what terrifies the Cuban-American hardliners," McAuliff said.
(Editing by Kevin Gray)

Canadian Line to Launch Round-Cuba Cruises

15 August, 2011

(12:00 p.m. EDT) -- In a new chapter of the on-off love affair between cruise lines and Cuba, a Canadian tour operator has announced that it will launch week-long voyages out of Havana for the winter season. Toronto-based Cuba Cruise will start service December 4 and use the 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal, which was built in 1980.

This announcement comes a year after the launch of Belize-registered Tropicana Cruises, which also offers round-Cuba holidays, although mainly to Russian guests. The new service helps fill the void left by British line Thomson Cruises, which pulled out of its planned Cuban operation for 2012 for logistical reasons.

A Cuba Cruise spokesman told Cruise Critic that Cristal will have fresh Canadian food shipped in weekly as well as Canadian beer and Cuban/international beverages, thus alleviating the problem of unreliable food provisioning that any cruise line in Cuba could face. Entertainment and front-office crew will, however, be Cuban.

Cuba has always been tricky for cruise lines to offer, as it's difficult for American citizens to get visas to travel there on vacation. Lines carrying American passengers therefore avoid the island altogether, leaving Cuba to European companies, including Fred. Olsen, Compagnie du Ponant, Sea Cloud and Noble Caledonia.

Cuba Cruise, however, is being sold as an in-depth exploration of the island for English-speaking guests, rather than just a single port of call. The ship will call at Bahia Nipe, Cayo Guillermo, Santiago de Cuba, Cayo Caguama (a private island), Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Isla de la Juventud. In addition, it will feature six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and four national parks.

Voyages will be priced as cruise-only from Havana (starting at a reasonable CAD $586, or around £364 per person) and are open to anybody who can legally enter Cuba. Flight-inclusive packages are being offered by various Canadian tour operators, as well as Thomas Cook in Germany, and shortly, the Holiday Place in the U.K.

--By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor

Thursday, August 11, 2011

OFAC Clarifies Guidelines


ISSUED: July 25, 2011

SUBJECT: Travel to Cuba and People-to-People Groups

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) is aware of misstatements in the media suggesting that U.S. foreign policy, as implemented by OFAC, now allows for virtually unrestricted group travel to Cuba by persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Although OFAC amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515 (the “Regulations”), in January 2011 to expand licensing of travel to Cuba for certain specific purposes, the amended Regulations still contain significant travel restrictions.

OFAC now specifically licenses organizations that sponsor and organize certain educational exchange programs to promote contact with the Cuban people (“People-to-People Groups”), provided that the requirements set forth in section 515.565(b)(2) of the Regulations and OFAC’s licensing guidelines are met. Anyone interested in traveling to Cuba should review the Regulations and OFAC’s Comprehensive Guidelines for License Applications to Engage in Travel-Related Transactions Involving Cuba (“Application Guidelines”)
 (available at
 to determine whether his or her proposed travel related transactions are or could be authorized under this or any other travel license category. As stated in the Application Guidelines, OFAC only licenses People-to-People Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.  Authorized activities by People-to-People Groups are not “tourist activities” under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which prohibits OFAC from licensing travel-related transactions for tourist activities.

Potential travelers should know that a People-to-People Group licensed by OFAC will possess and is
required to make available to its participants information concerning its specific license. A People-to-People Group using another entity to make its travel arrangements may only use an OFAC-authorized Travel Service Provider (listed at
sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_tsp.pdf) or an entity outside the United States that is not
subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Travel agents and tour operators in the United States that do not hold an OFAC Travel Service Provider authorization cannot organize trips, collect funds, make travel
arrangements, or engage in any other Cuba travel-related transactions for People-to-People Groups or any other licensed travelers.

Authorized travelers to Cuba are subject to daily spending limits and are prohibited from bringing any Cuban “souvenirs” or other goods into the United States, with the exception of information and informational materials.

Civil and criminal penalties may result from a violation of the Regulations.

For additional information about OFAC sanctions involving Cuba, you may contact:

U.S. Department of the Treasury
Washington, D.C. 202/622-2490
Miami, FL 786/845-2828 (Travel Service Providers)

emphasis added

For full guidelines about new licensing regulations, go to