Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tour Operator Has Head Start on Cuba

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tour Operator Has Head Start on Cuba

Article excerpt

Moonachie-based vacation tour operator Arthur Berman is well- positioned to take advantage of the loosening of travel restrictions in Cuba.

Over the past several years he has arranged thousands of charter- flight tours to Cuba, usually taking off from Miami, but sometimes New York.

"The demand from all over the country is tremendous," said Berman, a vice president at Central Holidays and a longtime travel pro. "You cannot get a hotel reservation in Havana until January 2018."

As President Obama ends a historic visit to Cuba, the two countries seem poised for a new era of more open relations, although the 50-year embargo, which can be lifted only by Congress, remains intact. Although the countries have taken significant steps to loosen travel restrictions, tourism is technically still prohibited. Most Americans go under a highly structured program that allows educational trips.

Berman will be one of a number of tour operators who will be arranging seven-day cruise ship tours for Fathom, a cruise-ship unit of Carnival Corp. The excursions, to begin May 1, will mark the first time in more than 50 years that cruise ships will sail from the United States to Cuba, Berman said.

"You are not even allowed to go to the beach," said Berman, who arranges meetings between Americans and Cubans at cigar and rum factories, salsa classes and cultural events. "You meet on a one-to- one basis. It's not cheap, and if you don't do everything you are told, they send you home."

Berman said he is looking forward to U.S. airlines providing scheduled service from the New York City area, which may drive travel costs down and help spur development of hotels and restaurants in the island nation.

For now, those in the travel business who, like Berman, have already developed relationships in Cuba, have a leg up on the competition. …

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