When Barack Obama becomes president, he must decide how much to open the door to travel to Cuba.
During the campaign, he and the Democratic Party platform pledged unlimited travel for Cuban Americans. However, he did not foreclose using the same presidential authority to grant non-discriminatory licenses for eleven other categories of non-tourist travel codified by Congress in 2000. They include educational, humanitarian, religious, sports, cultural and “support for the Cuban people.”
As coordinator of the Travel Industry Network on Cuba, I encouraged participants in a professional development seminar at the annual conference of the National Tour Association in Pittsburgh to ask the new President to take a bold but very popular step.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans want to end restrictions on travel to Cuba. If Obama grants general licenses that do not have to be applied for, and does away with the cumbersome registration process of Travel Service Providers, all American travel agents and tour operators will receive an immediate business opportunity. Even when such travelers had to go through the time consuming and often arbitrary process of seeking licenses, their number grew to 84,500 in 2003 before President Bush tightened regulations.
I want to add that only the US Congress can restore the right to sell large scale commercial tourism, but non-tourist travel is a the kind of soft opening that will benefit both Cuban providers and seriously interested US consumers.
The ultimate goal of freedom to travel received a boost when the prestigious Brookings Institution issued a report “Rethinking US/Latin American Relations: A Hemispheric Partnership for a Turbulent World.” Its first recommendation on Cuba “that should be implemented immediately by the US government” was “Lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.” http://thehavananote.com/2008/11/brookings_blueprint_for_obama.html
In my audience at the NTA conference were two Canadian tour operators who spoke enthusiastically of their professional experience in Cuba. An American tour operator, who had organized licensed Elderhostel programs in Havana, reported they had sent 24 groups in six months.
I sugggest there are two ways to have impact on Obama’s transition team. “US supporters should make use of the form on the Obama Web site, http://change.gov/page/s/yourvision. Everyone is welcome to sign an on-line letter at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/obamacuba.
Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development