TheTradeShow delegates are urged to help end Cuba embargo
Panelists at the Cuba discussion, from left: Andrea Holbrook of Holbrook Travel; Tony Martinez, a consultant on U.S.-Cuba
policy issues; John McAuliff of the Travel Industry Network on Cuba; and Marti Aragones of Sol Melia Cuba Hotels.
By Nadine Godwin
LAS VEGAS — Tony Martinez, a consultant on U.S.-Cuba policy issues, called on
members of the U.S. travel industry to get
involved with ending the Cuba travel embargo, saying that “pro-embargo politics
blocks you and your industry.”
Besides, he told delegates to The TradeShow here last week, the embargo policy is
a failure and “has changed nothing.”
The embargo policy, which President
Obama extended last week, stays in place,
Martinez said, because “it is about money.”
He said a group of 5,000 Cuban-Americans
spending about $1 million during congressional elections every two years “have had a
great impact.” They have kept Congress at
bay despite the fact the majority of Americans and even the majority of Cuban-Americans want the embargo lifted, he said.
Martinez was one of several speakers at
The TradeShow session titled “Cuba: Breakthrough Opportunities for the U.S. Travel
He is also a senior foreign policy adviser to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson,
but he said he was not participating in
The TradeShow in an official capacity and
his remarks reflected his own opinions.
Even so, he reported on Richardson’s August trade mission to Cuba where he met
with officials at the Ministry of Tourism.
(A trade mission was possible because it is
legal to export food and agricultural products to Cuba.) The tourism officials made it
clear they were “eager to work with American businesses” to prepare for and receive
U.S. tourists, Martinez said.
He listed for The TradeShow delegates
the ways they can be involved:
• Get the newest regulations (updated
because of new rules allowing Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba at will), and “get
your business mind working” on the travel
that can be done legally now.
• Become a travel service provider, which
is a license to sell Cuba travel, and promote
legal travel to Cuba.
• Discuss the matter with your representatives in Congress.
• See Cuba for yourself, and get your congressional representatives to visit as well.
• Make a contribution to an organization
that is campaigning to end the embargo.
“Look at current politics and how politicians are raising large sums from small contributions,” he said. “If all supporters [of
eliminating the embargo] gave $10 each,
that would be enough.”
Martinez said money could be given to
a group like the U.S.-Cuba Political Action
Committee, but there are others as well.
John McAuliff, coordinator of the Travel
Industry Network on Cuba, added his own
• Sign the petition, created by Orbitz, to
end the embargo. He said there were close
to 100,000 signatures already.
• Take the message to the White House,
urging Obama to license all nontourist
travel to Cuba. That is as far as the president can go, he said, adding that only Congress can end the ban on ordinary tourism
to Cuba. Bills to lift the embargo are pending in both houses.
During The TradeShow session moderated by U.S. Tour Operator Association President Bob Whitley, speakers also provided
information on Cuban tourism today.
Christopher Baker, travel writer and author of six books about Cuba, said there
was speculation that 1 million Americans
would visit Cuba in the first year after the
end of an embargo, and 2 million to 3 million would visit annually after that.
But “tourism to Cuba already is huge,”
Baker said, with 2. 3 million visitors last
year. Three-quarters of hotels are inclusives
concentrated in three beach areas. A quarter
of the hotel stock is managed by Sol Melia,
Baker said, but all hotels are government-owned.
He said he did worry about the change
that might be wrought when the doors are
opened from the U.S., but he still supported
open doors “for obvious reasons.”
“So much about Cuba is nostalgia,” he
Andrea Holbrook, president of Holbrook
Travel in Gainesville, Fla., said there was “
almost the sense of a long-lost cousin” when
Her agency has a license to sell Cuba,
which she described as a safe destination
that because of the pent-up demand is “a
Holbrook said there were several travel
companies in Cuba, all government-owned,
and three were assigned to work with the
U.S. travel sellers.
Cuba has a tiered pricing system, which
means prices are higher for some nationali-ties, and the U.S. is in the top tier. Still, Holbrook said, it is an “affordable” destination.
Arranging air is a challenge. Either the
licensed seller arranges charters or advises
clients to travel via third countries, she
There are no ATMs in Cuba, and credit
cards issued by U.S. banks cannot be used.
Holbrook said she asked a local cab driver if he thought it would be better for the
U.S. to open the door for tourism gradually
rather than all at once.
She said his response was, “Let them
come. We need the income.”
ASTA pep talk touches on United policy, N.Y. hotel tax
By Nadine Godwin
In remarks addressed to members during ASTA’s annual meeting earlier in
The TradeShow program, Russo made a
similar appeal for member involvement,
regardless of the issue.
“I’ll be the first to admit, doing the right
thing isn’t always easy,” he said, but it is the
“right thing to do … to visit with [repre-sentatives] and educate them on the harmful effects of a hotel occupancy tax or the
devastating impact United’s attempt to
cut off travel agents from its merchant accounts could have.”
Remarks by Paul Ruden, staff senior vice
president of legal and industry affairs, addressed the New York hotel reseller tax,
and operators to
remit tax on the
full amount paid
by the customer,
service fees and
ASTA still has
the law, but, he
added, “most of
you are not affected if you are
taking commissions only” on
New York hotel
you bundle packages with markups or sales
fees, keep very, very good records.”
LAS VEGAS — ASTA President Chris
Russo made a personal appeal to all agents
— “I don’t care if you are an ASTA member” — to contact their representatives
and senators about United’s plan to cut off
a number of agencies from its credit card
Russo made his pep talk on the final day
of The TradeShow, just days before the first
of the 28 affected agencies were to face debit memos of $75 per booking if they continue to use United’s merchant accounts
(the UATP card is an exception).
While calling for more and broader trade
participation, Russo also applauded agents
who have contacted their representatives.
He said this grassroots effort had produced
support for congressional hearings.
He recalled that some agents had complained ASTA “didn’t do enough” when the
airline commission cuts first occurred in
1995, but he said, “Don’t worry about what
happened 15 years ago. This is an opportunity to stand up now.”
In the belief that, if left unchallenged, the
United policy would spread to more agencies and carriers, Russo said ASTA had laid
the groundwork for agents across the country to contact their representatives and raise
the relevant consumer protection issues.
“It takes a whopping minute and a half,
at a computer, to write to a senator,” he said.
He also suggested agents set up in-person
meetings with lawmakers or congressional
aides, and added: “Do any of us still use a
phone in our business? Now you get to do
a cold call.”
TradeShow draws 2,500
TheTradeShow was expected to draw
about 2,500 delegates, down from about
3,000 last year, said Bill Maloney, ASTA’s
CEO. Most of the attrition was among suppliers, many of whom had cut back on staff
for trade show booths, he said.
Amtrak and several hotel companies
participated in TheTradeShow’s first
hosted-buyer program, and Maloney said
200 to 250 agents were hosted in some
way, with free registration and/or accommodations.
At TheTradeShow, fun on the floor
Carol McConnell, president of Around the Globe Travel, Huntington Beach, Calif., and Howie
Perlin, Ya’lla Tours’ national sales and marketing manager, at Ya’lla’s stand within the Turkey
booth at The TradeShow. Perlin was costumed for the event; he called himself the “passionate