Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wharton to hold Cuba conference in New York

Jumping on the interest generated by President Obama's new policy on Cuba, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania said Tuesday that it would conduct a conference April 1 in New York City for companies and executives interested in doing business in the Caribbean nation.

"This is going to be a really big change for the entire region, and a historic change for relations between the United States and Cuba," said Mukul Pandya, editor-in-chief of Knowledge@Wharton, who will host the Cuba Opportunity Summit.

Wharton hopes the summit will become a series of events, with a future gathering in Havana.

The United States and Cuba have been at odds since Fidel Castro led a revolution that took power in 1959. Though Obama can order that full diplomatic relations be restored, only Congress can remove the economic embargo that has prevented most travel and nearly all trade between the nations.

The conference will be cochaired by Faquiry Diaz Cala, chief executive officer of Tres Mares Group Inc., an investment firm based in Miami, and Mauro F. Guillén, management professor and director of Wharton's Lauder Institute.
"Unleashing Cuba's potential in the global economy is essential to fostering change from all perspectives, and it will hopefully lead to a more integrated Caribbean region," Guillen said in a statement.

Even if Congress lifts the trade embargo, Cuba still has a communist government that maintains tight controls on people and businesses.

Pandya said that companies involved in travel, tourism, and infrastructure development might be interested in starting work in Cuba, but that there are business risks for all types of organizations, such as uncertainty about property rights, laws, and regulations.

"We want to explore the economics of the change," he said. "The question is understanding the opportunity and the risks."

215-854-4506 @phillypharma
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20141231_Wharton_to_hold_Cuba_conference_in_New_York.html#daeMrxFfrB9XRAOD.99

Monday, December 29, 2014

Seismic Shift in Travel Regulations

U.S.-Cuba travel business prepares for seismic shift
12/23/2014 7:00 AM 
 12/23/2014 10:04 PM

When news broke that Washington and Havana would be renewing diplomatic relations, the phones at InsightCuba began ringing off the hook with Americans interested in traveling to the island.
InsightCuba and other people-to-people providers, which are licensed to organize trips to Cuba that promote engagement between Americans and the Cuban people, anticipate more travel. But some providers say even bigger changes are ahead — perhaps allowing authorized travelers to visit on their own rather than only on an organized tour.
“It’s all a bit tentative because Treasury hasn’t come up with the new travel regulations yet,” said John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which has worked to end the U.S. embargo since 1985. “But it’s clear in the language of the president’s announcement that they’re talking about every American, not just organizations. ”
McAuliff, who has organized people-to-people tours — the most recent in November — said he expects the whole process of Cuba travel will be shaken up and that the changes could make Cuba travel more accessible to a wider demographic of Americans.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sent an email to those in the Cuban travel business last week saying the new regulations would be out in a matter of weeks. When Obama reauthorized people-to-people trips in early 2011, it took nearly four months to release the regulations and the first people-to-people trips didn’t take off until that August.
Since then, Treasury has approved or renewed the licenses of 463 people-to-people operators, ranging from university alumni groups to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Elderhostel.
Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, said he expects the Cuban travel business to become far more competitive — with any travel agency that complies with the new regulations allowed to sell tickets.
He bases his interpretation on this paragraph in a White House Fact Sheet on the changes which allows travelers who fall within 12 categories to visit Cuba without seeking prior approval from the U.S. government:
‘Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.”
In OFAC terminology, a general license means that a traveler doesn’t need to seek prior approval from the U.S. government to travel if they self-certify that they fall into one of the 12 categories.
“I think I’ve read that paragraph 150 times,” Popper said. “Travel to Cuba just got a whole lot easier.”
While Phil Peters, who heads the Cuba Research Center and also has a people-to-people license, agrees there will be great liberalization of travel to Cuba, he isn’t so sure about the interpretation that independent travel will be allowed.
“It’s possible, but it’s not clear,” he said. “There have been a lot of experiences where the government has issued general guidelines and then the actual regulations surprise you.”
While the U.S. permits those with family members in Cuba to travel freely to the island, most Americans can only legally go to Cuba by taking a people-to-people tour. And they’re not supposed to be vacations at the beach.
South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is wary of expanded travel. It’s “troubling because history has shown that many of these trips are purely for tourist purposes which is supposed to be against U.S. law and in turn injects millions of dollars straight into the pockets of the Castro regime and the Cuban military,” she said.
She also finds “a blatant contradiction of policies when the Obama administration promotes more travel to Cuba while at the same time issuing travel advisories stating that the Castro regime can detain U.S. citizens at any time without an explanation.”
Robert Burke, a mathematician who retired from Rutgers University and now lives in Boston, was among Americans on people-to-people tours in Havana this week.
He said anyone who thinks those on the tours just go around looking at famous churches is wrong. “They bring us to people. I dare say we’ve had some very interesting views. They don’t sound like the government line,” he said. “We also heard from a retired diplomat who served in the U.S. He was much closer to the government view.”
Karen Armatorio, a resident of The Villages, and her son were waiting to join their people-to-people group at the Hotel Nacional. She also remarked on the ease with which she has exchanged views with Cubans. “I think it’s fantastic. They’ve been very open about everything, including their political views,” she said.
Popper, meanwhile, is preparing to capitalize on all the interest in Cuba travel by expediting his plans to add new trips to Cuba.
“Everything just exploded” after Obama’s announcement, he said. “We’ve booked five times as many passengers as we normally do every day since.”
On Monday, he announced 70 additional departure dates for Cuba travel in 2015 and 2016.
“We were planning on adding more departures but the response we’ve been getting hastened our decision. More departures were imperative,” he said.
This year, InsightCuba had 170 departures of small groups of 16 to 24 people and sent around 3,000 people to Cuba.
Among InsightCuba’s new offerings in 2015 are a cruise and a trip that will take Americans to Cuba to run in the Marabana Havana Marathon Nov. 15. [Those participating in athletic events fall into one of the categories that no longer requires prior approval from OFAC.]
OFAC has steadfastly refused permission to those who want to offer ferry or any other maritime passenger service to Cuba. But the InsightCuba cruise is structured so its travelers fly to Cuba, catch a cruise offered by a Canadian company in Cienfuegos, meet their Cuban driver and host at each port of call and then disembark in Santiago de Cuba.
The cruise, which navigates around the island, begins and ends in Jamaica for its non-American passengers. Popper already has OFAC approval for the cruise.
“I don’t think the American population at large knows it can travel to Cuba legally but now so many more people know about the possibility,” said Popper. Some of the interest is also coming from people who want to go now in case the next president reverses the policy, he said.
“Now is the time to come,” said Chris Cornell, who lives in Montreal and was visiting Cuba last week. “It’s going to change dramatically” with the renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations.
Even if individuals are allowed to book tickets, Popper said he still expects plenty of business for the people-to-people operators.
McAuliff agrees that even if there are other options to book Cuba travel, “travelers will value people-to-people operators’ experience and knowledge” and it will be a good option for first-time travelers to Cuba.
Many, but not all, people-to-people tours tend to be expensive. InsightCuba’s nine-day Classic Cuba tour, which departs Jan. 31, for example, costs $4,895. A nine-day National Geographic Expeditions Tour that visits Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and the Bay of Pigs costs $5,995 per person double occupancy and it doesn’t include airfare.
An eight-day culinary tour of Cuba organized by Chef Douglas Rodriguez’s DRod Culinary Adventures departs on March 13 and costs $6,475 double occupancy but it includes airfare from Miami. Rodriguez pioneered Nuevo Latino cuisine at the old Yuca restaurant and continues his fusion tradition at two Miami Beach restaurants, OLA and De Rodriguez at Ocean.
Because such people-to-people tours are costly, those taking them tend to be affluent, mostly white and older, said McAuliff.
But if people are permitted to book on their own, they can stay at casas particulares, private bed and breakfasts, or inexpensive hotels and cut costs “as long as they go with the intent to have serious engagement with the Cuban people,” he said.
The new travel policy, said McAuliff, “could really change the demographics of who goes to Cuba from the United States. You could see younger travelers and more blacks and non-Cuban Hispanics as well as families. But it’s still a bit theoretical.”
McClatchy correspondent Tim Johnson contributed to this report from Havana.
The 12 categories of authorized travel
Travelers in 12 categories will be able to visit Cuba under general licenses without seeking formal permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. That means they won’t have to submit prior paperwork and may only need to sign an affidavit when buying their tickets.
Travelers who fell into some of these categories, such as journalists and those on family visits, were already allowed to travel under general licenses. Now, no one in these categories will need to specifically apply for a license:
1. Those on family visits
2. Travelers on official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and “certain intergovernment organizations”
3. Journalists
4. Professionals engaged in research or who are attending meetings in Cuba
5. Those participating in performances, clinics, workshops, and athletic and other competitions
6. People engaged in religious activities
7. Those pursuing educational activities   [incl People to People]
8. People engaged in activities that support the Cuban people
9. Individuals or groups engaged in humanitarian projects
10. Those carrying out the activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. People engaged in the export, import or transmission of information or information materials
12. Those engaged in export transactions authorized under existing regulations and guidelines
Source: White House

University of Virginia Business School Trip

Students from the University of Virginia will travel to Cuba at a time when the United States is restarting its relationship with the isolated island nation.
Twenty-six Darden Business School students will arrive in Cuba next Monday to begin a week-long visit. The school planned the trip earlier this fall before President Obama announced the U.S. would resume diplomatic ties with Cuba.
The students will study the Socialist country's transitioning economy through business and healthcare.
“My hope is this will be the opportunity to see the beginning of something rather than something that's already been achieved,” said Gregory Fairchild, a Darden School associate professor of business administration. “My biggest hope would be some of them will think this might be a place where they would consider possibly now engaging economically. “
This is Darden's first student trip to Cuba. The school hopes to make it an annual experience as relations develop between the U.S. and Cuba.


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, seeturtles.com]

Read more: http://www.mensjournal.com/travel/events/diving-with-turtles-and-scientists-in-cuba-20141208#ixzz3LLsdNRFf 

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 travel@cubamar.org 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.    http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/blog/latin/2014/10/florida-aquarium-team-to-travel-to-cuba.html

Monday, October 6, 2014

Prospects for Private Boat Travel

Marina industry group plans trip to Cuba