A note from our president, Andrea Holbrook:
As some of you know, Holbrook Travel has been operating programs to Cuba since 2000, when we received the Travel Service Provider license. I first traveled to Cuba in 1999 with my mother and company founder, Giovanna Holbrook, and that initial provocative trip sparked a passion for a beautiful and unique island nation. The experience was unforgettable, both in terms of culture and society, but also in terms of natural history: Cuba offers amazing natural treasures in unspoiled marine and terrestrial settings.
From the academic expert to the nature lover, Cuba is a great option. Additionally, the peer-to-peer exchange opportunities for students, researchers, conservation experts, academics, and artists are phenomenal. The Cuban people embrace the chance to connect with their US counterparts and to make contacts, and inevitably these relationships are rewarding for both sides.
On December 17, having arranged the prisoner exchange and removing other key roadblocks, President Barack Obama made an unprecedented move to recommence diplomatic relations with Cuba and further ease travel restrictions. I was personally glued to the television during this special announcement and listened with amazement as the president discussed the change. Having friends and associates in Cuba, I could only imagine the enormous implications this has for them and for all Cuban people.
On that day, we had a group traveling in the country engaged in a Christmas Bird Count, a citizen science bird monitoring program in conjunction with The Ocean Foundation and consisting of Cuban and US volunteers. (Click here to read about a previous CBC trip to Cuba.) They were on a bus during the time of the announcement, and according to our program leader Rob Norton there were a few phone calls to our Cuban ornithologist Dr. Hiram González, after which the news was shared with our group. There were cheers and applause all around, and the festive, euphoric energy was palpable throughout their time in Cuba.
On January 16, the Office of Foreign Assets Control — the entity charged with creating and enforcing regulations regarding travel to Cuba — issued the new amended regulations.
Having been involved with Cuba travel for the past 14 years, we know these regulations can be confusing and require clarification. Here are the implications, as simplified as we can make them, as they relate to the Holbrook community of travelers:
1) Higher education travel - Faculty-led short courses for students are relatively unchanged in that they remain very easy to organize. Essentially, any college or university can organize a program for their faculty to travel with students as part of a for-credit course for degree-seeking students. Adjunct, staff, etc., can join the program as well. Preparatory programs for faculty wishing to visit the country first to arrange future programs are also allowed.
2) Secondary schools – Under the new regulations, the educational travel general license now extends to secondary school programs, which were previously not allowed except by a special license. Holbrook is now in a position to offer programs to secondary schools that are interested in an educational program to Cuba. Also, the rules stipulate that a reasonable number of adult chaperones are permitted to accompany the group.
3) People-to-people travel – This category falls under the educational category and refers to a broader type of travel that essentially can apply to any organization offering people-to-people exchange programs. In essence, the main requirement is that the travel program must involve a full-time schedule of activities and emphasize meaningful interaction with the Cuban people. Therefore, nature associations, non-profit organizations, and many other groups and societies of all kinds are now able to organize travel to Cuba so long as the trip meets the above-mentioned requirements of people-to-people travel. Please note that the above list is an attempt to simplify questions about travel to Cuba. For further details, click here and here for the documents from the US Department of the Treasury. However, Holbrook is prepared to field questions and start planning. We have several key staff that have been traveling to Cuba since we began operating programs there in 2000. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions – we are ready to help you.