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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The U.S.’s ease on travel and trade restrictions has had an effect on South Florida’s travel industry from those boarding the planes to those selling the tickets.
The phones at Tocororo Travel in Southwest Miami Dade have been constantly ringing with people requesting information about visiting Cuba now that travel restrictions to the island nation have been eased.
“We just had an American citizen who called us and asked us if he could go to Cuba before McDonald’s gets there so that kind of rush is going through people’s mind…people are trying to go to Cuba to see how Cuba is now because in 10 years it’ll be changed,” said Travel Agent Orlando Consuegra.
Americans traveling to Cuba will no longer need to get a special license from the U.S. government to do so but only if they’re traveling for 12 specific reasons which include business, education and research, among others.
“If you’re an American citizen and you want to travel to Cuba to do tourism, you’re not supposed to do it,” said Consuegra. “You’re supposed to go to Cuba for one of those 12 reasons.”
Passengers waiting in line to check in for their flight to Havana at Miami International Airport were loaded with clothing, medicine and other basic necessities for their families. They welcomed the fact that they’ll be allowed to send more money.
“If it wasn’t for us, they would have a terrible life. They have a better life because of the things that we can provide to them,” said Juan Boras who was traveling to Cuba.
Miosoty Martin says she travels to the island once a year to visit family.
She hopes the new rules will lower the price of airfare.
“To go to Cuba, it’s a 45 minute flight and you end up paying over $400 to travel which is crazy,” she said.
She also looks forward to being able to send more money to her loved ones.
“Anything you take to Cuba, it’s needed. Anything,” she said.
“Since I came I have been sending money and medicine and vitamins, food, all kinds of things to my mom and my family so I think this new opportunity is amazing,” said Zenaida Perez who was also traveling to Cuba.
Speaking of opportunities, travel agents see the ease of restrictions as a way for both business and travelers to benefit.
“Competition is definitely going to increase the opportunity for people to get better service, better prices,” said Consuegra.
“There’s going to be more Americans that will be traveling and more americans that will be coming back and telling friends and relatives about the trip and experiences and hopefully that will generate interest,” said Bill Hauf.
Hauf owns Island Travel and Tours, a charter company that flies people to and from the island.
While he thinks the new policy will require some clarification, he believes it’s a long time coming.
“It always seemed so cruel to me that our country would keep families apart by saying you can only go visit your grandmother once every 3 years.
But Cuban-born U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen released a statement which said, in part, “The Obama administration has once again opted to unilaterally ignore existing U.S. law in issuing these new regulations, and in doing so, has provided an economic lifeline to the Cuban communist regime. ”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio issued a statement on Thursday saying in part, “This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its repression against Cubans, as well as its activities against U.S. national interests in Latin America and beyond.”
The new policies will also allow travelers to use debit and credit cards in Cuba, and to obtain insurance for their trips.
Americans will be permitted to send more money to Cubans, up to $2,000 every three months, instead of just $500 per quarter.
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