Although a cascade of crises face our new president, Cuba and Covid were the main topics discussed in a recent Zoom webinar composed of travel advisors who sell tours to Cuba, operators who run them and experts who explain and interpret Cuban policy. And all were hopeful that changes to current U.S. policies regarding Cuba are in Biden's sights.
The webinar took place in mid-January, just days after the former administration designated Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism," prior to Joe Biden assuming office.
David Lee, founder of Cultural Cuba, a U.S. tour company that offers luxury individualized travel to Cuba, weighed in on the designation.
"This is another example of politics at its worst," Lee said. "Adding Cuba to a list that previously only included three countries -- Syria, Iran and North Korea -- makes a mockery of the entire designation. Anyone with any knowledge of Cuba will recognize that it doesn't belong on the list with those other countries."
Lee described the move as a "lame-duck president's attempt to burden the new Biden administration," reassuring participants that the designation "means very little and has no effect on U.S. travel regulations for travel to Cuba. It just sows further confusion for Americans and the world."
Zoom participants asked how easily the new administration could undo the designation and wondered as to if, or when, Biden would reinstate policies enacted during the Obama administration.
Lee pointed out that the Summit of the Americas event, which takes place every three years, will be held in the U.S. this year, bringing together leaders from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.
"We are the host this time," he said. "Hopefully, this will spur Biden on to formulate his policy on Latin America, including Cuba, although he has many big issues on his plate.
"The most essential and best value we can add to this topic is to continue doing what we all do best: educate and encourage Americans to visit Cuba. We must continue to clarify and alleviate misinformation regarding travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens," he said.
Lee added that the aim is to have Biden end all travel restrictions to Cuba, including opening the all-inclusive resorts to U.S. travelers.
"When that door opens, American hotel companies will move in," said John McAuliff, the founder and executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development and coordinator of the Cuba/U.S. People to People Partnership, who moderated the session.
When the topic turned to Covid, questions were raised regarding Cuba's testing facilities for travelers. The topic is especially urgent, since CDC regulations take effect Jan. 26 that require all travelers to produce a negative Covid test prior to entering the U.S.
Laurie McLaughlin, vice president of customer services at Holbrook Travel in Gainesville, Fla., said that visitors can get tested within 72 hours of departure from Cuba with results in 24 hours. There are two international clinics in Havana for tests, she said; the cost is $32.
Cuba requires travelers take a test within 72 hours of their arrival and take a PCR test upon arrival. They must also have travel insurance that covers Covid-19 during their stay.
Rita McNiff, a travel advisor in Havana who owns Like A Cuban agency, said that due to a recent spike in Covid cases in Cuba, some flights have been reduced.
"There are very few tourists here now" she said. "We have been told that vaccines will be available by the end of February or early March. Visitors have to quarantine after arrival until their test results come in, but they can get meals delivered to their casa particulare [private home for accommodations]. There are 27 restaurants listed in Havana that deliver meals." Fruits and vegetables also can ordered from local farms.
Several U.S. advisors said they are anxious to resume their small, personalized tours to Cuba, which can operate under the Support for the Cuban People authorized category of travel.