As the rush for travel to Cuba continues, tour operators are trying to squeeze what they can of the huge demand through the narrow bottleneck of government regulations that were based on a Cuba embargo still hanging on from the days of JFK.
Two major tour operators, Tauck and General Tours, announced this week that they had received the necessary government approval and licensing to resume their tours to Cuba. Tauck received a renewal of its license to conduct people-to-people cultural exchange trips from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US Treasury Department authorizing it to resume trips to Cuba as of Oct. 6. Tauck's Cuba program began in 2012, and was one of its most successful launches in its 88-year history, according to CEO Dan Mahar.
Tauck's initial license to operate in Cuba expired at the end of 2012, and according to a statement from the company, "although the company had submitted its renewal application at the earliest opportunity to do so, more robust documentation requirements from OFAC coupled with staff shortages there resulted in delays." Tauck's new license is valid until mid-2015. Tauck is offering an eight-day itinerary priced from $5,490 per person double-occupancy, not including air.
General Tours, through its partnership with Insight Cuba also received clearance for another two years for its trips to Cuba. Insight Cuba's license had been scheduled to lapse in the fall. Now the window is open for two more years.
Insight Cuba claims to be the longest running operator of people-to-people trips to Cuba. General Tours' partnership with the company dates back to 2003. General Tours makes travel agent referrals for Insight Cuba's 150 published departures of five itineraries, including Undiscovered Cuba (12 days/11 nights); Classic Cuba (eight days/seven nights); Scenic Cuba (eight days/seven nights); Cuban Music & Art (nine days/eight nights) and Weekend in Havana (four days/three nights).
Collette Vacations renewed its license to operate people-to-people trips in mid-May, according to a company statement. Collette operates a nine-day tour called Collette Vacations Rediscover Cuba - A Cultural Exploration.
Ya'lla Tours has had a Travel Service Provider license since 2002, according to its president, Ronen Paldi. According to Paldi the license "does not expire and we have run legal travel to Cuba without any interruption. We service all kinds of legal travel to Cuba and are not limited to just People to People. We have the ability to do both FIT and groups. We have the ability to do any length of a trip and have no limitations as the People to People have. We work with travel agents and make sure that both they and their customers are in full 100 percent compliance with the law."
Other operators of Cuba trips includes Abercrombie & Kent, Globus, International Expeditions and Austin-Lehman Adventures.