More Access for Travel

Opening up Cuba to travel will unleash a force for serious change By: Kenneth Shapiro

Every year at the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Annual Conference and Marketplace, one destination seems to be on everyone’s mind. A few years ago it was Egypt, and tour operators were busy enhancing or establishing itineraries in that country. Another year it was Myanmar. This year, all the talk was about Cuba.

That’s probably not surprising to you now that President Obama announced there would be an easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba. But the USTOA conference was held almost two weeks before the president’s announcement. If there was that much interest in Cuba then, it only makes sense there would even more excitement now.

“I personally know some people who are very passionate about going there,” said Mary Stachnik, senior vice president of Mayflower Tours, which has its first Cuba tour departure next month. “There is just so much interest in the country. It’s not like anywhere else.”

Another tour operator, The Isramworld Portfolio of Brands, has been offering Cuba tours since early 2013, including tours for LGBT travelers and travelers interested in Cuba’s Jewish heritage.

“This historic development reflects enormous potential to have a positive impact on tourism to Cuba,” said Richard Krieger, president of Isramworld. “And, in turn, it will give American travelers the opportunity to experience first-hand the rich Cuban culture.”

There’s no question that, from a travel standpoint, ending all visitor restrictions to Cuba would be a welcome move. It’s also a position that polls suggest is supported by most Americans — even many in the Cuban community.

It you believe that travel is a tool for positive change all over the globe, then the Cuba situation is looking especially hopeful these days. As Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA, put it: “Permitting Americans freedom to travel allows them to serve as ambassadors of freedom and American values abroad.”

Travel is a tool to change the world, and that’s true whether we are talking about China, Myanmar, Russia, Iran or, yes, Cuba. Travel agents will now have the opportunity to participate in this historic moment and, hopefully, we will all see even more open access in the future.