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Cuba Travel Update: Renewed Licenses for People to People Operators

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A month ago Peter interviewed Ellen Creager of the Detroit Free Press on what looked to be the end of “people-to-people” trips to Cuba as a result of the sudden spike in difficulty to obtain or renew a license for these types of trips from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). After months of waiting, several organizations have been given a renewal of their license which allows them to offer the People to People trips to the nation that has been under U.S. embargo since 1962. Friendly Planet Travel, Insight Cuba, and the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, among others,  have all now received renewals for their license.

Right now approximately 20 of the 140 originally issued licenses approved things are looking up–there were only three approvals at this time last month–but operations are still not running full steam.

The trouble began from public complaints, including comments from Florida Senator Marco Rubio, that the trips were being used as a cover for outright tourism rather than promoting education and cultural experiences. This issue has yet to be completely resolved. Several well known groups including Smithsonian Journeys, National Geographic Expeditions, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Austin-Lehman are still awaiting acceptance of their application for renewal.

Despite the difficulties in obtaining the license, Peggy Goldman, President of Friendly Planet Travel, believes that the Cuban “people-to-people” programs will not only survive the increased scrutiny, but continue to rise in popularity as awareness of the opportunity for legal travel Cuba spreads.

As far as the bureaucracy behind the rules stating what is and is not acceptable for participants in the program, Goldman says that it really is no problem, “for the serious traveler, the traveler interested in really learning about the people and the culture, and the history of the locations they are traveling, will be doing the things they would be planning on doing anyway.” As far as necessary changes to itineraries, Goldman says that Friendly Planet Travel will just keep focusing on insuring as much fresh content as possible for visitors to experience the abundance of music, art, and culture that Cuba offers.

While the situation might have looked bleak just a month ago, those interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to experience people and culture of Cuba should not abandon all hope. As more licenses are approved and more travelers become that they can visit a country that has been essentially closed to Americans for the past 50 years, opportunities to travel to the island nation should only continue to increase.

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By Steven Knight for PeterGreenberg.com

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