Caribbean Tourism Organization Chairman: Serious Obstacles to Come for Cuba Travel

Richard Sealy (left), chairman of the CTO, and Hugh Riley, secretary general of the CTO, address attendees of the closing press conference for Caribbean Week New York

NEW YORK  CITY, New York -- On the same day that Richard Sealy, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), told media and tourism officials gathered at the Wyndham New Yorker hotel for the closing press conference of Caribbean Week New York to curb their excitement about restriction-free U.S. travel to Cuba, House Republicans voted Thursday to maintain restrictions on Americans seeking to travel to Cuba.

During the CTO press conference, Sealy first wanted to remind the attendees that Cuba is and has been a member of the CTO. He also noted that just because Cuba hasn't had American tourists in years doesn't mean the island isn't already a tourism powerhouse in the Caribbean, attracting roughly three million tourists a year with Canada as its source market.

"In fact, Cuba gets more tourists a year other than anyone in the Caribbean except for the Dominican Republic," he says, "so, we are not talking about a country that is new to tourism at all."

Although Sealy says he was "looking forward to seeing Cuba fully integrated into this whole system of offering tourism services," he did want to remind those in attendance not to start planning their trips to Cuba anytime soon since there were still some major obstacles to overcome in fully lifting travel restrictions from the U.S. 

"I think a little dose of reality needs to be realized here," says Sealy. "(President) Barack Obama did all he could do as far as restoring relations, but there is still this thing called Congress." 

According to The Associated Press, the Republican-controlled chamber voted 247 to 176 to retain a Cuba-related provision in a transportation funding bill. It would block new rules issued in January that would significantly relax restrictions on travel to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time.

According to the report, the administration rules lift a requirement that American travelers obtain a license from the Treasury Department before traveling to Cuba. Instead, all that is required is for travelers to assert that their trip would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, in part because of the Cuba-related provision. The measure is also caught in a broader battle between Republicans controlling Congress and the White House and Democrats over spending for domestic agencies.

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