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In this issue’s cover story, “Rubik’s Cuba," we take a look at this complicated destination — both for travelers and from the perspective of suppliers who seem to be adding itineraries daily. While Cuba is the focus of a lot of media buzz, travel agents need to make sure their clients understand that the country offers a fundamentally different tourism experience — one that may not be appreciated by every traveler. Yet these differences are also part of what makes a visit there special.
“People love that they are going someplace so close to home, but that’s so different,” said Peggy Goldman, co-owner of Friendly Planet Travel. “I suppose it’s the same impact as going to a place like Papua New Guinea. People are living in a totally different way than you.”
For travelers, one of the biggest differences in visiting Cuba is the people-to-people encounters that are required on an itinerary. While this is a government mandate, the chance to interact with Cubans in a variety of different roles — teachers, students, artists, scientists, community-service workers, entrepreneurs and more — actually provides for some of the most meaningful moments of a Cuba trip.
“I doubt the people in our government were astute enough to recognize what they were doing when they created this program, but they created a huge diplomatic corps,” Goldman said. “Americans love the opportunity to get up close and personal with Cubans, and the people-to-people program makes that possible.”
Despite the many differences in Cuba, there’s something familiar about the country, too. Because of our collective fascination with the island, Americans have been exposed to more Cuban culture — and more images of Cuba — than many other places. We love Cuban music, Cuban food and even Cuban sports heroes.
In time, it seems certain that, for better or worse, the differences between Cuba and the U.S. will gradually diminish, and Americans will truly feel at home there. This inevitable march of change should provide extra motivation to visit now, while the island’s mystery can still be appreciated.