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Agent Group Plans to Promote Travel to Cuba

Tourism: Members will be trained to sell the island as a vacation destination despite a U.S. ban on tourism there.

April 08, 2002|From Reuters

HAVANA — The biggest travel agents' organization in the United States said Saturday that it would train members to promote Cuba as a vacation destination, despite Washington's ban on tourism to the Caribbean island.

"We are developing a destination specialist course to train and educate U.S. travel agents to sell Cuba," Richard Copland, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, said at a Havana news conference.

"We believe it is a constitutional right of Americans to have freedom to travel anywhere in the world.... Travel promotes peace and understanding among peoples," Copland said.

The association has 26,000 members, 18,000 based in the United States. Copland and four other association executives who arrived last week toured resorts, including Varadero and virgin keys now being developed, and met with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Copland said his organization was part of the growing U.S. business lobby supporting efforts in Congress to end the four-decade-old trade embargo against the island's communist government, including travel restrictions.

Cuba built up its tourism industry after the collapse of its former benefactor the Soviet Union a decade ago. The Tourism Ministry reported 1.8 million visitors in 2001, most from Europe and Canada.

Americans are increasingly ignoring the travel ban, under which they can be fined and imprisoned for spending money in Cuba.

The U.S. Treasury Department reported more than 150,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba last year, of which only two-thirds were approved by Washington under provisions for athletic, academic and cultural exchanges, as well as limited commercial activities and some other categories.

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