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Travel agencies praise new regulations for visiting Cuba

By Emilio J. Lopez

Miami, Jan 16 (EFE).- The easing of U.S. restrictions on traveling to Cuba will boost Americans’ visits to the island and will have a “very positive impact” on bilateral relations, according to travel agencies and an expert in the field.

“It seems to me completely positive” that the U.S. is taking steps to make travel to Cuba easier, Yuleika Perez, the director of Tocororo Travel, a Miami agency specializing in trips to the island that also flies packages and mail there, told Efe.

Perez was pleased that, starting this Friday, Americans wanting to travel to Cuba do not first have to obtain a special license from the government, if their cases fall within any of the 12 categories on the list for travel to the island.

Measures like these will serve to increase “the presence of Americans on the island” and promote investment in a country that is “deteriorated and prostrated by political decisions,” the Cuban said.

She also spoke of the tedious bureaucratic procedures that agencies and travelers currently have to deal with, and mentioned one of the worst issues for Cuban-Americans planning a trip to the Caribbean island – the high price of visas, between $85 and $100 for those without a Cuban passport.

“Americans say that visas are expensive and constantly complain about how much they cost,” Perez said, admitting that it’s still too soon to evaluate how truly helpful these steps to an “opening” will be.

Another of the usual complaints of Americans traveling to Cuba is why they have to go “for family reasons” and why “they can’t go as a tourist, stay at a hotel at their own expense or tour the island from one end to another,” instead of having to buy a “rigid travel package.”

“The truth is that Americans know they’re not going to New York, but to a country that is totally deteriorated,” the director of Tocororo Travel, which also takes care of all kinds of consular red tape required of the traveler, said.

In the opinion of economist Jorge Salazar Carrillo, an expert at Miami’s Havana Consulting Group, the easing in the U.S. of travel to Cuba will double the number of American visitors to the island, from 70,000 or 80,000 annual visitors to twice as many.

Nonetheless, he told Efe that the new measures will have no direct impact on the ruinous Cuban economy, which has to import some 80 percent of products consumed by tourists in Cuba.