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Published: Tuesday, 11/24/2009

Area agents get inquiries on Cuba trips as curbs ease

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

When Congress this year eased some restrictions on travel to Cuba, Toledo travel executive Polly Caumartin heard from customers eager to visit the birthplace of Desi Arnaz and his alter ego, Ricky Ricardo, Fidel Castro, and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez.

"People are confused about just who is able to travel there," said Ms. Caumartin, vice president of Central Travel.

As it turns out, Congress simplified travel only for people with relatives in the island nation. But some on Capitol Hill want a broader liberalization.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee last week held a hearing on easing restrictions for all citizens on travel to the Communist nation 90 miles off the Florida coast.

"It's time for us to scrap this anachronistic ban, imposed during one of the chilliest periods of the Cold War," committee Chairman Howard Berman (D., Calif.) wrote last week in the Miami Herald. The column was co-written with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

Americans for years have gotten around the U.S. ban by traveling to Cuba through Mexico, Jamaica, and other nations.

But Ms. Caumartin said she discourages clients from such arrangements.

Central Travel plans to host a program in January on laws relating to Cuban travel.

The session also will discuss a legal trip that Central Travel is promoting to the Caribbean nation May 15 to 23 with Ya'lla Tours USA Inc.

The excursion is licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department as a humanitarian trip. Participants will drop off donations at churches and synagogues in Cuba. But they also will visit destinations popular with European and Canadian tourists, including Old Havana, the cobbled streets of Trinidad, and El Floridita, a famed bar described as the birthplace of the daiquiri and haunt of writer Ernest Hemingway.

The trip, which will cost $4,900 a person, will depart from the Mexican resort city of Cancun. That cost doesn't include the travel to Mexico.

Ms. Caumartin is convinced that laws on Cuban travel eventually will be eased.

"The travel industry is very interested in getting Cuba opened up," said Sue Dybowski, an agent with Travel Experts in Toledo.

Unlike Central Travel, she receives few inquiries about travel to the Communist nation.

"Once we're able to go there, I expect there will be a lot of interest in it," she added. "It's someplace we've been forbidden to go, so there is a curiosity on people's part. It will be a new destination in the Caribbean that won't be that difficult to get to."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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