On the Fly™ - Editorial Commentary by Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams

May 02, 2003: Are You Sure You Want to Go to Cuba?

In the last three months, I have been bombarded with promotions from tour operators marketing their "educational" trips to Cuba for purchase by the general public. These tour operators boast that they are licensed by the U.S. government to legally sell travel packages to Cuba. While the packages often mention the "educational" and "religious" nature of the trips, the itineraries are clearly designed as holidays marketed to skirt US laws.

When I reached my toleration limit for deceptive information, I decided to check to see if the rules had, indeed, changed because I found it hard to believe that tour operators could brazenly flaunt the law. The tour descriptions I was being emailed clearly were not in keeping with the rules as I know them. As I have understood it, a very specific set of criteria is applied to determine who is qualified to travel to Cuba. . .and come back.

Interestingly, the conveniences I have provided for visitors to my website proved helpful to research the current status of who can go to Cuba! I went to www.sabrams.com and clicked on Travel Advisories, which took me directly to the information I needed on regulations related to travel to Cuba.
The only thing new that I learned at the government's website was that there are tour operators willing to put their companies and the people who buy their tour packages to Cuba directly in conflict with US regulations. In short, while the government issues licenses to some businesses for transactions with Cuba, "transactions related to tourist travel are not licensable. This restriction includes tourist travel to Cuba from or through a third country such as Mexico or Canada," according to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations of the U. S. Treasury department."

The only persons eligible to travel to Cuba without special government permission are clearly defined as follows:

"- U.S. and foreign government officials traveling on official business, including representatives of international organizations of which the U.S. is a member;

- Journalists and supporting broadcasting or technical personnel regularly employed by a news reporting organization;

- Persons making a once-a-year visit to close family relatives in circumstances of humanitarian need;

- Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to professional research in their professional areas, provided that their research : (1) is of a noncommercial academic nature; (2) comprises a full work schedule in Cuba, and (3) has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination;

- Full-time professionals whose travel transactions are directly related to attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba organized by an international professional organization, institution, or association that regularly sponsors such meetings or conferences in other countries;

- Amateur or semi-professional athletes or teams traveling to Cuba to participate in an athletic competition held under the auspices of the relevant international sports federation.

The Department of the Treasury may issue licenses on a case-by-case basis authorizing Cuba travel-related transactions directly incident to marketing, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, and servicing of exports and re-exports that appear consistent with the licensing policy of the Department of Commerce. The sectors in which U.S. citizens may sell and service products to Cuba include agricultural commodities, telecommunications activities, medicine, and medical devices. The Treasury Department will also consider requests for specific licenses for humanitarian travel not covered by the general license, educational exchanges, and religious activities by individuals or groups affiliated with a religious organization."

You might also want to note that failure to follow these regulations carries penalties when the traveler returns to the U.S. as clearly explained here:

"Unless otherwise exempted or authorized, any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who engages in any travel-related transaction in Cuba violates the regulations.
Failure to comply with Department of Treasury regulations may result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution upon return to the United States."

In spite of all of the above, there are unscrupulous sellers of travel who would like you to believe that, if they add some text to the marketing materials promoting a trip to Cuba that says you will be researching, studying, or praying together, this creates a trip that carries the blessings of the U.S. government. The reality is, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck! And a holiday at the beach in Cuba is still a holiday at the beach which is forbidden to U.S. citizens.

I have often wondered why, with all the wonderful places in the world to visit, there are people who would want to choose Cuba as the destination. There is clearly a reason that Cuban people take their loved ones and get into a tiny boat in a big ocean to leave Cuba. That alone would dissuade me from going there even if it were legal. But I've never been keen to go anywhere where there is no U.S. Embassy!

If you're one of those people who likes to live dangerously and, in spite of all of the above reasons, you are contemplating a trip to Cuba, think about this: Those who violate the U.S. travel regulations regarding travel to Cuba leave themselves open to a $55,000 fine upon their return. Put that in your Havana cigar and smoke it!

Stephanie Abrams, honored as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Travel, can be heard nationally on Sundays in the 7pm EST hour on the Business Talk Radio Network with her Traveling Companion, Dave Isby when she hosts,"Travel With Stephanie Abrams!"

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