HAVANA -- Cuban president Fidel Castro met with a delegation of
U.S. travel industry officials for more than two hours Oct. 19 at
the conclusion of a one-day visit to explore tourism and business
possibilities on the island.
The group was fully hosted by Havanatur, Cuba's leading travel
service; the visitors did not spend a dime during the 14-hour
visit. The travel ban prohibits U.S. citizens from spending dollars
Although Castro did not comment directly on the Bush
administration's opposition to loosening travel restrictions for
Americans who want to visit Cuba and the campaign to crack down on
illegal travel to the island, Castro told the group that "we are
very appreciative of what you are doing," referring to lobbying
efforts in Washington to end U.S. restrictions on travel to
He also joked that if the restrictions are lifted, "so many
Americans will come that we would have to find a place to
Castro said he has seen a growing demand for Cuba as tourist
destination, citing a 14.8% increase in arrivals to 1.3 million
visitors worldwide from January through August.
"Our interest is not to build high buildings or a lot of
buildings like Cancun," he said. "What matters is that we preserve
the beauty of the area and offer quality services and well-educated
He also pointed out the Caribbean region as a whole should be
viewed as a tourist destination and not in competition with each
The day-long trip, which included stops at Revolution Square,
several restored hotels in Old Havana, music and dance performances
as well as meetings with Cuban officials, was part of the first
U.S-Cuba travel conference held in Cancun Oct. 16 to 18.
The conference itself was sponsored by the Association of Travel
Related Industry Professionals (ATRIP) based in Washington,
recently formed to lobby for an end to the travel ban.
ATRIP president Michael Zuccato said "it's not a question of
whether the ban will be lifted, only a question of when."
Conference participants included Bob Whitley, U.S. Tour
Operators Association president and Matt Grayson, director of
industry and government affairs for the National Tour
Cuban officials included Ibrahim Ferradaz, minister of tourism;
Miguel Figueras, senior advisor to the minister; Dagoberto
Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington; and
Antonio Diaz, president of Havanatur.
To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].