Revisions to Cuba Travel Regulations Have Big Implications for Educational Travel

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Recent travel regulation changes released by the Obama administration in January have huge implications for the educational travel world. Companies like Holbrook Travel, an educational travel provider that has been providing programs to Cuba for the last decade, can now broaden their scope of programming to this often hard-to-access country.

People are eager to begin exploring a country that has been off-limits for so long. Many want to see Cuba now – anticipating great changes in the country. Having had the privilege of visiting Cuba many times, I know that these feelings are justified.

The Obama administration announced revisions of travel regulations to Cuba on January 14, after more than a decade of stringent restrictions. The new regulations allow for “purposeful travel” to the country and also included revisions to the policies governing family remittances and regulations on charter flights to Cuba from US airports.

These policy revisions have profound implications for educational travel. New guidelines allow colleges, universities and any higher education institution to organize study programs that are shorter than a semester, as long as the students are degree-seeking and enrolled in a for-credit course. Previously, these study programs were only permitted if their duration was 10 weeks or longer. This type of travel also no longer requires an application to the Department of Treasury or a post-trip report, but only requires a letter from the academic institution supporting the course carried by participants.

The new regulations also allow for “people to people” travel, in which an organization or group travels to the country for the purpose of connecting with Cuban citizens. This type of travel was introduced during the Clinton administration, during which time many nonprofits, civic organizations and cultural institutions traveled to Cuba.

These modifications to the guidelines are big news to companies like Holbrook Travel, a provider that has specialized in this type of educational travel since it was founded in 1974. Planning for programming in late 2011 and 2012 has already begun and the company is developing several additional Cuba expeditions that will highlight sustainable agriculture, natural history, service learning, educational exchange and cultural immersion. The company also offers customized programming for any group or organization that would like to tailor their trip to meet specific educational needs.

“We are particularly pleased to see that university programs will no longer need to apply for a specific license to travel. University programs can now travel with a simple letter from their institution. That is huge. We’re anticipating a substantial surge of programs to Cuba because of the new regulations, so the earlier a group or organization can start planning, the better,” said Andrea Holbrook, president and CEO of Holbrook Travel.

The current regulations still require that travel be arranged through a licensed travel service provider (TSP), a special legal status Holbrook Travel has held since 2001. The company has arranged numerous educational and ecotourism programs in the last decade, and is well versed in organizing travel programs to Cuba.

“People are eager to begin exploring a country that has been off-limits for so long. Many want to see Cuba now – anticipating great changes in the country. Having had the privilege of visiting Cuba many times, I know that these feelings are justified. Things are changing very rapidly there, but it is still one of the most provocative and interesting destinations I have visited. While we hope Cuba will soon be open to any traveler, the upside to the new policies not having gone further is that it will increase the flow of people without totally overwhelming the tourism infrastructure,” Holbrook said. “We really applaud this move to further open travel to Cuba. An open dialogue and exchange of ideas is vital to increasing understanding between Cubans and Americans.”

Holbrook — who has been president and CEO of Holbrook Travel since her mother, founder Giovanna Holbrook, retired — is actively involved in and supportive of travel regulations and programming to Cuba. Holbrook Travel has joined the Cuba/US People to People Partnership, which will offer a website with resources regarding travel guidelines, resources and information for anyone interested in traveling to Cuba (http://www.cubapeople2people.org).

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Holly Gibbs
Holbrook Travel
800-451-7111 ext. 322
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