Friday, May 22, 2015

Want to travel to Cuba? Keep these things in mind

Want to travel to Cuba? Keep these things in mind

Next week, Cuba comes off the U.S. government's official State Sponsors
of Terrorism list, in a move expected to jumpstart the path to normal

But if you're thinking of rearranging your summer travel plans, the
island 90 miles off Florida might still be a world away, reports CBS
News travel editor Peter Greenberg.

Cuba has enjoyed brisk international tourism for decades, but business
is picking up.

After President Obama acted to remove certain travel restrictions last
December, more Americans are looking to see what they've been missing
out on for half a century.

"It's close and you have gorgeous beaches, but you also have history.
Forts dating back to the 1600s... but all the recent history that's so
interesting as well," Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said.

After 14 years of trying to banish the Cuban travel ban in Congress,
Flake is seeing brighter skies.

"With scheduled air service coming soon, it's really going to blow it
open, and that's a good thing," Flake said.

But on this island nation where many cars predate the embargo, Cubans
may have trouble meeting demand.

"We're hearing a lot of planning. I think right now it's still early
days," MasterCard general counsel Tim Murphy said.

MasterCard recently allowed service on the island, along with American
Express, so Americans can start swiping -- if you can find a terminal.

"We think it is going to take a little bit of time for the kind of
large-scale tourism that you're talking about to open up because so much
of the infrastructure still needs to be built and developed," Murphy said.

That includes more reliable financial systems, better roads and most of
all -- a lot more places to stay.

With roughly 60,000 rooms on the island, many of Cuba's residents are
renting space in their own homes with more than 1,000 listings on Airbnb.

Until more hotels can be developed, the country remains ripe for the
cruise lines, which are already floating hotels. And they have quietly
charted 11 viable harbors.

But despite last month's handshake between Mr. Obama and Cuban President
Raul Castro, and a deal brokered and then blessed by none other than the
pope, being a traditional tourist in Cuba is still illegal for Americans.

"It has never, technically, been illegal to travel to Cuba, it's just
been illegal to spend money in Cuba," Flake said. "But it's impossible
to travel to Cuba because as soon as you arrive, you pay some kind of
airport fee or something else and so you've violated the ban."

Getting around that ban means bringing something of value to the
country, like the Minnesota Orchestra did last week when they became the
first American orchestra to perform since the president moved to
normalize relations.

Whether you play an instrument or not, Americans must qualify in one of
12 categories to be licensed for travel, which includes family visits,
religious or educational activities and humanitarian projects.

"We've introduced the Freedom to Travel Act, which would just say, let's
get rid of this façade and allow any American to travel to Cuba for any
purpose," Flake said.

But even with travel restrictions in place, Flake said the first
scheduled commercial flights in more than 50 years aren't far off.

"I would be very surprised if, by the end of this year, you don't have a
couple of airlines with scheduled air service," he said.

While you're fastening your seat belt, keep in mind two things:

The U.S. still has to negotiate bilateral agreements with Cuba to allow
regularly scheduled flights, and every major American airline has told
CBS News they will file to fly the route from multiple U.S. destinations.

As for hotel chains, their chief executives have not been eager to talk
about their business plans for Cuba, because a number of them still have
claims against the Cuban government dating back to when the embargo
began. They have no realistic expectations for a money settlement, but
it's not money they're after; they want their claims to be settled for
land, upon which they will then start building their hotels.

Source: Will Cubans have trouble meeting demand of tourism? - CBS News -

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