WASHINGTON -- The Association of Travel Related Industry Professionals (Atrip), a new organization that supports unrestricted global travel and is spearheading a sustained effort to ease U.S. travel policies to Cuba, wasted no time in zeroing in on Cuba as the focus of its first international conference.

Atrip will convene a U.S.-Cuba Travel Conference Oct. 16 to 18 at the Gran Melia Cancun Hotel in Mexico.

Ibrahim Ferradaz, Cuban minister of tourism, will give the keynote address. Participants will include Cuban tourism agencies and hotels, government representatives, U.S. congressional members, business leaders, tourism representatives and industry officials.

Although breakout sessions and workshops will focus on Cuba's business potential, along with long-term investment and travel industry development opportunities, the prospects for a change in U.S. laws to open up travel to Cuba "will be an overriding issue and focus," according to Atrip executive director Brent Gibaldo.

"The conference already has generated a lot of excitement and interest," Gibaldo said. "While the current economic environment might limit attendance, there is considerable interest in and support of free and open travel to Cuba, especially within the U.S. Congress."

The Cuban Ministry of Tourism and tour operator Havanatur are offering a one-day hosted trip to Cuba following the conference on Oct. 19.

Atrip, which formally debuted in late June, bills itself as "an association of professionals in support of freedom of travel. ... we did not want to pigeonhole ourselves," Gibaldo said.

Atrip's board of directors includes the directors of ASTA, the National Tour Association and the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

Setting the stage for Atrip's Cuba conference was a one-day forum in Washington last month that examined U.S. policy on Cuban travel.

For conference details, visit www.atripusa.org.

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