Fine line between legal and illegal Cuba tour

With “people to people” Cuba travel now banned,
tour operators that continue offering Cuba must operate tours under one of the
remaining categories of legal travel to Cuba. 

While many companies have already been running trips under
categories including humanitarian, religious, academic and professional
meetings, the most common one that most operators will now use, and one that
many already do, is “support for the Cuban people.”

The difference between people-to-people (P2P) and support for
the Cuban people (SCP) is somewhat nuanced. 

“There is more
of a ‘doing’ with the support for the Cuban people and the very political:
helping them become more independent from government,” explained Collin
Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel, which has a long history of organizing
trips under that category. 

Cuba Candela CEO Chad Olin said some differences are that “P2P
travelers might stay in a hotel, while SCP travelers might stay in a private
home. P2P activities might include a presentation from a city planner on the
restoration of Old Havana, followed by a visit to notable cultural landmarks.
SCP travelers might eat at a private restaurant and buy services from a private
business such as a taxi driver, local shop or salsa teacher.”

The government lists several examples of the kinds of trips
that qualify as “support for the Cuban people.” 

It stipulates that travelers engage in a full-time schedule
of activities that “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil
society in Cuba or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban
authorities, and result in meaningful interaction with individuals in Cuba. The
traveler’s schedule of activities does not include free time or recreation in
excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.”

Examples are staying in rented accommodations in a private
Cuban residence, eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants and shopping at
privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans. 

The travelers “engage with the Cuban host to learn
about Cuban culture” and support Cuban entrepreneurs “launching their
privately owned businesses.” 

The examples specify that as long as a group volunteers with
a “recognized non-governmental organization to build a school for
underserved Cuban children” in their free time it is ok to “rent
bicycles to explore the streets of Havana and visit an art museum.”

However, it is not ok to do the aforementioned bike ride if
the traveler otherwise only engages in “brief exchanges with local beach
vendors” and stays in a hotel because “none of these activities
promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.”

A major difference for operators that tailor their tours
from P2P to SCP is that while it is not specifically stipulated in the
regulations, staying in a private home is listed as being compliant, which some
operators understand means hotels are not. 

InsightCuba president Tom Popper said it is easier to accommodate
all guests in home accommodations now with the surge in the number and quality
of private homes for rent since Airbnb launched in Cuba.

“As a result, so many homeowners have update their
properties,” he said. “There are some incredible places to stay.”

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