|photo by Nick Kenrick|
Citing the economic benefits, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) reports it fully supports the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, bipartisan legislation introduced yesterday that would fully repeal restrictions on travel by American citizens and legal residents to Cuba.
“ASTA has long believed that Americans ought to be allowed to travel across the globe without restriction, allowing them to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values abroad,” said Zane Kerby, ASTA president and CEO.
ASTA estimates at least two million additional Americans would visit Cuba by 2017 if there were to be a full lifting of travel restrictions in 2015.
Approximately 1,020,000 would be leisure travelers going by air, 521,400 would be leisure travelers arriving by cruise ship, and another 550,000 Americans would travel to Cuba to visit family members.
“While the Administration’s recent actions on Cuba were a step in the right direction, it is Congress that needs to step up to the plate on travel freedom. We are seeing that leadership now from Senators Flake, Leahy and their bipartisan coalition, and we will do everything in our power to get this bill across the finish line," Kerby said.
ASTA noted that in December, President Obama announced an agreement between the U.S. and Cuban governments to ease long-standing restrictions on trade and other interactions between the two countries, including those preventing American citizens from traveling to Cuba.
On January 15, the U.S. Treasury Department issued regulations reflecting the new policy under which travel service providers may arrange travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens without the need for a government license – but only if the travel conforms with restrictions in current law. General tourism remains prohibited under the Cuba embargo enshrined in U.S. law, ASTA said.
The bill introduced yesterday, ASTA noted, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S.299), would repeal all provisions relating to U.S. residents’ travel to Cuba in their entirety, saying simply that “the President may not prohibit or otherwise regulate, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents.”
A House version of the bill will reportedly be introduced next week, ASTA said.
ASTA noted it has long supported a full repeal of the travel ban to Cuba. In 2010, ASTA’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to support a lifting of the travel ban.
Among the several rationales for the measure were the prospective economic opportunities awaiting both countries if current travel restrictions were to be lifted and the possibility of follow-on benefits to Cuba’s neighbors and the travel industry, ASTA said.
According to ASTA, the consensus among the Board was that – whether as part of multi-destination cruises or as a stop along the way to other countries in the region – the resulting influx of travelers to Cuba could help spark demand for new passenger routes, tour operations and travel agent services.