The logjam earlier this year of license renewals for companies operating people-to-people programs to Cuba appears to have loosened, as the licenses now are rolling in at a steady clip.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, is charged with evaluating each license application, whether new or a renewal, to confirm that each operator and each itinerary meet the guidelines and regulations for approved cultural people-to-people programs from the U.S. to Cuba.
Within the past two weeks, five companies received the go-ahead from OFAC, including Abercrombie & Kent USA, which had tried to enter the Cuba market in September 2011 but pulled its programs pending a review and clarification of Cuba regulations issued by OFAC earlier that year.
A&K’s first departure is now set for Sept. 6, with additional departures later this year and into 2014.
Two companies received two-year license renewals. Insight Cuba’s programs in partnership with General Tours World Traveler now run through 2015.
“We’re thrilled to receive our renewed license and look forward to our continued relationship with General Tours to send even more guests to Cuba,” said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba.
Calling the two-year license renewal “fantastic news for us and the agent community,” Bob Drumm, president of General Tours World Traveler, said that agents can book clients “even further in advance with complete peace of mind. A key message that agents need to relay is that now is the time to visit and experience Cuba before it changes.”
And Tauck Tours’ first departure under its renewed license is set for Oct. 6. Additional departures through 2013 and going forward to mid-2015 will be announced shortly.
The company’s return to Cuba follows its launch in 2012, one of the most successful itinerary launches in Tauck’s 88-year history, according to CEO Dan Mahar.
Tauck’s initial license to operate in Cuba expired at the end of 2012, and although the company submitted its renewal application at the earliest opportunity, OFAC requested more documentation. That, plus staff shortages at OFAC, resulted in delays, according to Mahar.
Boston-based Road Scholar will launch its people-to-people programs in December and will run through March.
Although most programs use charter flights from Miami to Havana, Road Scholar will use a cruise ship operated by a Canadian company.
Canadians and Europeans will make up most of the 1,000 passengers on the vessel, with the Road Scholar group limited to 24 participants. It will adhere to its own itinerary of educational and cultural interchanges and interactions with Cubans when the ship is in Cuban ports.
California-based Universal Travel System received its license to operate the people-to-people programs, which start in October. The company previously had operated the programs from 2000 to 2003 before President George Bush ended the run in 2004.