U.S. tour operator to open office in Havana

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Cuba Travel Services, a charter and tour operator with offices in California, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas, announced Tuesday that it would open an office in Havana on March 31. The company said it was the first U.S.-based travel company to secure permission to set up shop on the island in six decades.

“Our physical presence means our licensed clients will get faster service and more personalized attention directly from our staff,” said Michael Zuccato, general manager at Cuba Travel Services, in a statement. “This is a very exciting time for us, to be the first U.S. based Travel Company to open its doors in Havana.”

The California-based company said its Havana office would offer airline tickets, hotel reservations, and an array of other services, including local support clients in the country. Cuba Travel Services also said the new office would help it monitor its operations in Cuba more closely, serve clients while they’re in the country, and ensure offerings from its cruise and tour-operator clients comply with all U.S. regulations.

The company’s first office will be in the historic Lonja Del Comercio building in Plaza de San Francisco, across from the Sierra Maestra cruise terminal. Cuba Travel Services also says it plans to open more locations in Havana, Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Varadero, and Santiago de Cuba.

The move comes as companies that facilitate tourism in Cuba are pushing to ease recent concerns about traveling to the island. They say going to Cuba is safe, despite the mysterious symptoms, including headaches and hearing loss, suffered by 24 U.S. Embassy employees last year, and legal, despite the Trump administration’s reversal of former President Barack Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Havana.

Bob Guild, co-coordinator of RESPECT (Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel), said that the Trump administration’s warning against traveling to Cuba, the removal of many U.S. diplomats, and the new blacklist of businesses on the island linked to Cuba’s military created “a question mark” for many people who otherwise might have visited the island, reversing the trend of increased visits during the Obama-era thaw.

“Travel to Cuba was getting to be almost normal, and then all this came up.” said Guild, who has been sending groups to Cuba for 41 years.

Guild said Cuba Travel Services’ establishment of an office in Havana will benefit the entire Cuba travel industry by providing fresh evidence that the industry providing tours and individual travel to Cuba from the U.S. is alive and well.

“We applaud them getting an office, and we’re happy they did,” said Guild, whose association is the largest group of U.S. organizers of travel to Cuba. “I think it is great. Anything that happens in the industry is positive. It helps get the word out.”

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