It wasn’t too long ago that we told you about three tour operators who all made announcements within the same two weeks to begin offering U.S. clients rare trips to Cuba through the People to People initiative.
But after updated Department of State travel advisories to Cuba as well as accusations from several other tour operators that these trips were still technically illegal, two of the operators –Abercrombie and Kent and Globus -- decided to place temporarily holds on their offerings while they look into the issue more closely.
The third -- and perhaps the least known of the three -- Insight Cuba, however, went full steam ahead and officially inaugurated their People to People trips to Cuba last month when they sent roughly 40 people, divided in four groups, to Havana and other areas of this controversial Caribbean destination.
“I don’t know why these other operators put their trips on hold, if it was the latest advisory or what, but I know that we have spent 7.5 years doing our homework and I think we did it right,” says Tom Popper, director of Insight Cuba.
The trip, to comply with the People to People initiative, was tailored around community activities to bring Americans in close contact with the people and culture of Cuba from visiting local farmers to a school for the Blind and the Visually Impaired.
“It was amazing,” Popper says of meeting blind Cubans. “We got off the bus to a standing ovation of Cubans just waiting for our presence. It’s a real eye opener how much they want us there as much as we want to be there.”
Insight Cuba is a division of Cross Cultural Solutions, which specializes in short-term volunteer abroad programs. It was reauthorized by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to send Americans to Cuba in late June.
When the Obama administration reversed the previous administration’s policy and posted new travel regulations allowing People-to-People educational travel, Insight Cuba was among the first to submit its application for a new license.
The People-to-People initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, essentially, as the name implies, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country. It was implemented by President Clinton in 1999 and suspended by President Bush in 2004 before President Obama resurrected the program this January.
Before the program was suspended in 2004, Popper says Insight Cuba was sending roughly 250,000-500,000 American to Cuba annually. Popper says he expects that number to grow this time around to roughly 500,000-700,000 annually.