Thursday, December 29, 2011

Success for Friendly Planet P2P Tours

Friendly Planet sees 'phenomenal response' to Cuba tours

By Gay Nagle Myers, Travel Weekly

Friendly Planet, the latest entrant in the people-to-people cultural programs to Cuba, already has sold out many departures on its two programs, is adding more departures and has a third itinerary under development.

“I knew there was interest in Cuba, but I did not think it would be this strong,” said Friendly Planet President Peggy Goldman. “We’ve had a phenomenal response, with many bookings coming from our repeat customers from all over the U.S.

The five-day Discover Havana program offers 17 departures, which run from Jan. 18 through Dec. 5.

Nine departures already are sold out; the price starts at $2,399 per person, double, including roundtrip air from Miami to Havana. The starting rate drops to $2,099 if booked by Jan. 25.

All eight departures through May are sold out on the eight-day Colors of Cuba itinerary. Goldman said there is space on the Sept. 23 departure, priced from $3,199 ($2,799 if booked by Jan. 25).

While Friendly Planet’s itineraries are similar in content to those offered on other people-to-people programs, there are some “unique aspects,” according to Goldman.

“We travel on an ancient steam train through some of the villages near Trinidad in central Cuba,” Goldman said. “The train stops in these villages so our participants can meet and interact with the locals.”

Another stop is made in the mountainous community of Las Terrazas in western Pinar del Rio province, where the tour group has the opportunity to talk with local residents about the sustainable tourism development efforts that are under way in the region.

“The Cuban people are hungry for contact with Americans, and vice versa,” Goldman said. “We will add as many departures as we can get space for, based on the amount of available hotel inventory. The dearth of accommodations does keep a lid on the number of departures.”

Friendly Planet operated some humanitarian programs to Cuba in 2010, “but the people-to-people programs are new for us, and already we have seen great interest and demand,” Goldman said.



Friendly Planet is to be congratulated for its success.  Its work will contribute to desperately needed mutual understanding.

However, their programs and others undertaken by for profit tour operators are an illustration of the opaque and discriminatory process of licensing by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.  All American group travel to Cuba is similar because only three ground operators are authorized to work with us as a result of the underlying regime change agenda still dominating Washington.

Yet some organizations receive licenses and others do not.  Objectively there are no differences about what they can offer, so other factors must be involved.

The Obama Administration has opened the door much less than it could.

  • Every American is entitled to a general license for self-directed non-tourist travel to Cuba, not just Cuban Americans. 
  • Every travel agency and tour operator should be able to sell to authorized travelers not just 250 mostly Cuban American mostly Florida Travel Service Providers. 
  • Every IRS registered not-for-profit and third party provider of study abroad programs deserves a general license for group travel, not just universities and religious organizations.
  • Every American should be free to organize (and attend) educational and professional conferences in Cuba, not just a university for its own staff and students.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

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