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Travel firm to Obama: open up Cuba
By Andrew Clark, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/andrew-clark-on-america/2009/may/13/cuba-cuba
Who wants to go to Cuba? The US online travel company Orbitz does. The Chicago-based firm, which owns Britain’s eBookers, has begun a quirky lobbying campaign calling for a lift on America’s travel ban to the Caribbean island.
Orbitz has set up a website, www.OpenCuba.org, where visitors can petition the White House for an end to the 45-year prohibition on Americans visiting Cuba. Those who sign up will get a $100 voucher redeemable on a Cuban holiday when (or if) the ban is relaxed.
The Obama administration has been making encouraging noises about constructive engagement with Raul Castro’s regime. Cuban exiles living in the US have been told they can visit the island more often.
Orbitz’s chief exec Barney Harford, who is a Brit, told the Chicago Tribune that he has been enamoured with Cuban culture since a visit to the island in 1997.
“This is a magical country,” he said. “We want to organise our customers and other interested parties to reach out to Obama and other government officials.”
Orbitz clearly isn’t motivated purely by lifting the lot of the Cuban proletariat. US policy towards Cuba has long been a tiresome issue for the travel industry.
A couple of years ago, one of Orbitz’s rivals, Travelocity, was fined $182,750 after “technical failures” allowed customers to book travel to Cuba. And when eBookers was taken over by US owners back in 2005, some 200 British customers had their Cuban holidays cancelled overnight as the company’s new parent feared breaking the US embargo.
A poll commissioned by Orbitz found that 67% of Americans favour an end to the travel ban. The fact that businesses feel able to lobby openly, apparently without fear of upsetting hardliners among the Cuban exile population, is a positive sign. Perhaps a thaw is in the air?