Cuba tour operators and pundits have cheered that the Biden administration is considering revising its Cuba policy to bring group travel back into the person-to-person category and allow charter and commercial flights to Cuban cities other than Havana.
The administration also said it would relax Trump-era restrictions on family remittances and increase U.S. visa processing for Cubans.
Most were waiting for more details from the US State Department, which said in a statement that the United States aims to “further support the Cuban people, providing them with additional tools to lead a life in peace”. freedom from the oppression of the Cuban government and seek greater economic opportunities”.
Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet Travel and co-owner of Insight Cuba, said she was waiting for a timeline for when the changes will take effect. “They’ll be coming soon, though,” she said.
“The P2P (people-to-people) program will be permanently reinstated, and Friendly Planet and InsightCuba will be in high gear to get longer tours moving quickly as soon as we know when flights are available to cities other than Havana.”
Goldman said “the most important thing right now is that all of us who are involved with Cuba are happily jumping up and down, even without details to back up media reports. We will be ready to use the new flights as soon as we can access the information.
“It’s been a horrible time in Cuba for people, and we can’t wait to get back to sending people in droves who will once again make a difference for the many young entrepreneurs who depend on us.”
David Lee, founder of Cultural Cuba, described the news of the expansion of flights beyond Havana as “fantastic for Cuban Americans, many of whom have family in towns far from Havana, but also for visitors have easier access to amazing cities that are very long drives.” of Havana.”
Lee pointed out that Cuba is the length of California, and it can take an entire day to drive from one end to the other.
On raising remittances, he said: “The Cuban people suffered tremendously during the nearly two-year Covid lockdown, and it was a double whammy for the Trump administration to impose a limit of 1 000 dollars per quarter to family remittances in the US”
“Extremely welcoming” was the news of the restoration of consular services, visa processing and the family reunification programme. “The Cuban people have been waiting for this for years. I heard that there is currently a backlog of 20,000 visas.”
He pointed out that a timeline for all of these changes to take effect has yet to be announced. “Some of these changes also require cooperation with the Cuban government. They need to decide on a method for financial transactions to occur. Also, US airlines will need to decide which additional cities/routes they will operate.”
Will the airlines fly to other Cuban cities?
Before the Trump administration banned commercial flights to Cuban airports other than Havana’s Jose Marti in December 2019, only two carriers offered such a service. American Airlines flew from Miami to Camaguey, Holguin, Santiago, Santa Clara and Veradero, while JetBlue offered service from Fort Lauderdale to Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara.
American declined to comment on the latest policy change, and JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment.
The State Department also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The ministry has not yet specified which Cuban airports it will allow US airlines to serve and when service may resume.
Does the person-to-person category matter?
Lee disagreed with Goldman on reinstating P2P. “In my opinion, the P2P category is not necessary for legal travel. We have always used the Cuban People Support Program which, when done well, is all about sustainability. Traveling with purpose is the largest existing license.”
John McAuliff, executive director of the Reconciliation and Development Fund (an organization focused on normalizing relations with Cuba), expects the program of support for the Cuban people to continue.
“In practice, it is effectively the same as the person-to-person program. Facilitating person-to-person group travel will allow for greater engagement between the American people and the promotion of their democratic values.”
He added, “The recent announcement is welcome that the door is beginning to reopen between the peoples of the United States and Cuba.
Robert Silk contributed to this report.
Correction: American was flying to Varadero in Cuba. A previous version of this report had a city that was not in Cuba.