Saturday, December 31, 2011

Arizona Chambers of Commerce Sponsor Trips

Tempe, Glendale chambers to sponsor 9-day trip to Cuba

December 31, 2011 |


Tempe, Glendale groups help coordinate rare tour

by Luci Scott - Dec. 31, 2011 05:43 PM
The Arizona Republic

Arizonans have an opportunity to join a rare group visit to Cuba.

The Tempe and Glendale chambers of commerce are sponsoring a nine-day trip leaving Phoenix on July 12.

The tour was organized by a California-based travel agency, Chamber Explorations, which received permission from the U.S. Treasury Department.

"People who take this trip are going to see quite a bit; it's a very inclusive itinerary," said Aphrodite Pastroumasa, district sales manager for the travel agency.

Her colleagues have traveled to Cuba.

"What struck them is that Cuba is the only place on Earth they've been to that doesn't have a Starbucks or a McDonald's," she said. "It gave them a frozen-in-time feeling.

"That's what has been appealing to everyone, to be able to go somewhere that's not been marred by gross consumerism."

The trip is allowed under a "people-to-people" license. They were created by President Clinton and stopped by President George W. Bush. Restrictions were eased in 2011 by President Obama.

Because of an economic embargo in place for five decades, the U.S. prohibits citizens from spending money in Cuba, with a few exceptions, and from paying for a flight there, although they have flown from other countries, such as Mexico and Canada.

Mary Ann Miller, president and CEO of the Tempe Chamber, said the trip has sparked plenty of interest.

"I think people in Tempe are a little bit more adventurous, and tours for places they wouldn't normally be able to travel themselves might be interesting," Miller said.

Among Arizonans hoping to go is Glendale Chamber President Don Rinehart, whose bucket list includes a trip to Cuba, where classic, vintage cars line the streets.

"I love the Caribbean, and I've always wanted to go to Cuba," he said. "I'm a '50s fanatic and would love to go see those cars again."

Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters in North Bergen, N.J., has been to Cuba more than 40 times and raves about it.

"Cuba's a huge island with a very rich cultural life, deep history and a lot in common with the U.S.," he said.

"Most of what people have heard about Cuba is wrong. People think Cuba is very isolated. It is not."

Cuba has received 2.5 million visitors from other countries in 2011, and Cubans have traveled.

"When you meet with a Cuban who has, for instance, been a health worker in South Africa in a rural area that has never had a doctor, it's very moving," Guild said.

"Tens of thousands of Cubans have delivered health services around the world, and it's not something we hear about at all."

Guild said it's bizarre that the U.S. restricts travel to Cuba but not to Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Vietnam or Saudi Arabia.

Since travel to Cuba was eased, tour groups have quickly filled.

National Geographic scheduled a dozen trips for 30 people each. By the end of the weekend of the announcement, all groups were filled. A dozen more groups were planned, and those are nearly filled as well, Guild said.

On the trip sponsored by the Tempe and Glendale chambers, some of the sights in Havana will include the Cathedral de la Havana, the Museo Fine Arts, the Museo de la Revolucion that displays historical documents and artifacts and La Marketa de Havana in Old Havana, a collective of small-craft workers.

Among other sites will be author Ernest Hemingway's farm and Playa Giron/Bay of Pigs Museum.

The cost is $3,874 per person double with a $600 single supplement. Price includes airfare, visa, eight nights in first-class hotels and 19 meals.

For details, visit and click on the Events tab. To register, contact Mary Ann Miller at 480-967-7891 or

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