A thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations that began with the Dec. 17 release of American contractor Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2011, stands to benefit travelers, as well.

The U.S. will reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba (which were severed in 1961), the Obama administration said on Wednesday, and further ease travel restrictions to the country.

In his speech announcing the changes, President Obama said he believed in the power of the people-to-people programs that he reopened in 2009. Under revised travel policy, general licenses will be available for authorized travel to Cuba in 12 categories:

• Family visits
• Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments and certain intergovernmental organizations
• Journalistic activity
• Professional research and professional meetings
• Educational activities
• Religious activities
• Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions
• Support for the Cuban people
• Humanitarian projects
• Activities of private foundations or research or information materials
• Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines
• Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

Travelers will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with rules of the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, using American credit and debit cards.

The U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana in the coming months, and Cuba will open an embassy in Washington.

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