With the exception of Raul Castro and Pope Francis, not many of us knew to expect President Obama’s announcement about normalization of relations with Cuba. We’ve been conducting our People-to-People Exchange Program there for two years, and we’d seen some hints of change. It took us 10 years to get our first license from the U.S. government. The renewal was approved in less than one year, one indicator of some softening. On the ground, our guests have seen clearly that the Cuban government has implemented reforms, but only gradually. There are more owners of restaurants, barbershops and artists cooperatives, though they are still the exception rather than the rule.
As you can imagine, the questions about the impact of normalization have been coming at us fast and furious! Here are some of the most common questions and our answers – all subject to change at a moment’s notice as finalized policies or new rules are announced.
No. You still need to travel with a licensed company like Classic Journeys. The White House has said that it aims to facilitate an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law, including educational activities, like our People-to-People program.
Personally, I recommend going now to watch history being made. Cultures in flux make for incredibly rich travel experiences. It’s amazing to be able to witness the experimentation as well as the tension between old and new. We’ve seen it happen in countries from Myanmar to the Czech Republic over the years. It’s easy enough to imagine that there will be more prosperity – and homogenization – in the near future. I now have a lot of friends in Cuba, and I don’t begrudge them any of the good things that may come their way. But it can’t be long before Starbucks will open its doors on the Malecón. I’m advising every interested traveler to go as soon as you can. Then it would be really interesting to go back in 3-5 years to see what normalization has brought.
Only in good ways as far as we can see! We have contracts with our hotels, restaurants, guides and all of the people and colleagues in Cuba who help us operate our trips. These contracts extend into 2016, so we’re able to proceed as planned on all of our scheduled departures even though demand will surely increase.
We’re going to be right on top of changes – watching them, discussing them, building them right into trips on a moment-by-moment basis. Whenever a new rule takes effect, we’ll incorporate it. For instance, an early announcement says that Americans may soon be able to bring home $400 worth of goods, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco and alcohol. The moment that rule takes official effect, it will apply to our guests, no matter when they booked their trips. That’s right: Legal Cuban cigars for the first time in about six decades.
Stay in touch with Classic Journeys. Call us and check the blog on our website. We are in close touch with every authority we know in the U.S. and Cuba, and we’ll share the latest as soon as we learn about it.
|Issues and events to watch for|
|Congress||Leisure travel is still prohibited due to the Helms-Burton Act and other laws that cannot be changed by President Obama. The new session of Congress will want to have its say on travel and trade restrictions.|
|Commercial flights||You’re not likely to see any. Travel to Havana will remain heavily regulated, and Americans still need to fit in one of 12 specified groups that use charter airlines.|
|Credit cards||Until now, U.S.-based credit and debit cards wouldn’t work in Cuba. The Treasury Department is changing that.|
|Embassy||The White House wants to open one, but the Senate has threatened to block funding and postpone confirmation of an ambassador.|
|Cigars||Yes, you will be able to bring them into the U.S. But the initial $100 limit on tobacco and alcohol products isn’t enough money to pay for a whole box of premium Cohibas.|