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Tour operators' Cuba plea after U.S. deal

Thursday, January 08, 2015 - 02:04

Tour operators are calling on Cuba to improve infrastructure and services to lure American tourists following historic rapprochement. As David Pollard reports, until now the island has mainly been popular with Canadians and Europeans.

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Catch it while you can. Havana's full of old-world charm. And tourists eager to record memories of it while still possible. After a massive remake of its historic centre, the capital's hungry for more visitors. They may just come after a recent thaw with Cuba's former enemy, the United States. But they should be prepared. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PRESIDENT OF CUBA EDUCATIONAL TRAVEL, COLLIN LAVERTY, SAYING: "We always tell people when you're coming down you're entering into the dark zone and, of course, Americans living in 2014 aren't exactly accustomed to that." Collin Laverty has brought in around 5,000 people over the last four years. Under US sanctions, it's illegal for US citizens to visit unless they're Cuban-Americans, or join a cultural or education tour run by a licensed operator like his. Cuba was a favourite destination for US holidaymakers until its 1959 revolution. Its famous 1950s 'yank tanks' are still chugging on - but the city still has some way to go to improve an infrastructure that's little changed since then. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PRESIDENT OF CUBA EDUCATIONAL TRAVEL, COLLIN LAVERTY, SAYING: "At this moment there are 3, 4, 5 really nice hotels in Havana that you can count on for a quality experience and I think that needs to increase five, sixfold. You have capacity issues at the airport with everything from luggage getting off flights to the customs process. So, those are all challenges.'' The government is rising to those challenges, says Laverty. Meaning that what's good enough for Ernest Hemingway - the author used to drink at this bar - may be shared by lots more. Though some hope by not too many. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) SANTI, TOURIST FROM SPAIN, SAYING: "You have to strike a balance to avoid losing Havana's essence because there are lots of modern cities in the world, but not so many Havanas." It's hoped the US will one day lift its travel ban. Until that happens, Canadians lead the way with a over a million visitors a year, followed by the British. Lured by colonial sights, its beaches - plus the very present reminders of its Communist history. But still with a little time for something rather more modern. The selfie.

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Tour operators' Cuba plea after U.S. deal

Thursday, January 08, 2015 - 02:04