Travel - A Catalyst for Transforming the Relationship Between Cuba and America

The U.S. today has an historic opportunity to put aside half a century of division and build a new future with one of its closest neighbors by ending the ban on travel to Cuba.
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The U.S. today has an historic opportunity to put aside half a centuryof division and build a new future with one of its closest neighborsby ending the ban on travel to Cuba.

President Barack Obama took a bold first step by calling for a 'newbeginning' and by making it easier for Cuban Americans to visit familyin Cuba. Soon afterwards Raul Castro, the new Cuban leader, announcedhe is ready to talk. This represents a remarkable shift in arelationship previously marked by mutual antagonism.

I applaud these developments, but am convinced that American foreignpolicy would benefit by advancing more boldly and giving all U.S.citizens the freedom to travel to Cuba.

Two new leaders reaching out to each other to bridge historicdifferences represents an unprecedented opportunity. We should seizeit.

The interaction between people from countries with differingperspectives can be a powerful force for positive change andunderstanding. In 1971 the U.S. State Department lifted the ban ontravel to China. Later that year the U.S. ping-pong team made thefirst visit to China by a U.S. sports team since 1949. A year laterPresident Nixon took a few momentous steps off an airplane in Beijingand talked about "the week that changed the world."

These early moves laid the groundwork for turning a closed, hostilerelationship into the most important economic and diplomaticrelationship in the world today. Does this mean China and the U.S.always see eye to eye? Of course not. However the increased levels oftravel between China and America have fostered a level ofunderstanding unimaginable 35 years ago.

Our experience with China leads me to believe that America shouldfollow a similar path of engagement with Cuba.

Americans support such a policy. With Fidel Castro no longerofficially in power, the Zogby/Inter-American Dialogue Survey lastyear showed that over two-thirds of Americans believe that all U.S.citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba. U.S. citizens arealready voting with their feet, visiting Cuba via a third country suchas Canada, Mexico or a neighboring Caribbean island. This is despitethe challenges in getting to Cuba that stem from the ban prohibitingU.S. travel companies such as Orbitz from facilitating their journey.

Beyond the politics, we all stand to gain significantly throughrenewed cultural exchange.

Havana was once a premier international destination; elegant hotelssuch as the Hotel Nacional hosted distinguished guests including FrankSinatra and Winston Churchill. Havana's splendid architecture is someof the most eclectic and diverse in the world, its music isworld-renowned, and it has a vibrant artistic community. Americansshould once again have the opportunity to take in Cuba's sights, toexplore its history, to be entranced by the rhythms of its salsa andson.

I was able to experience Cuba during a visit 1997 before I moved tothe U.S., and was struck by the warmth and friendliness of the Cubanpeople. Visiting Cuba would provide Americans with a vibrant culturaland historical experience and provide a fascinating contrast to lifein the United States. Cubans would benefit from having the opportunityto meet with American travelers and learn about the U.S.

President Obama has said "we must learn from history, but we can't betrapped by it." We at Orbitz agree. This is why we are launching anew campaign, at, which offers ordinary Americans anopportunity to make their voice heard and call on policy leaders toopen travel to Cuba for all Americans.

Why can't all of us visit this alluring neighbor and play a part intransforming the relationship between two countries?

Americans have the freedom to travel to every other country in theworld, even those with whose leadership the U.S. has significantdifferences. That freedom provides an opportunity for U.S. citizens toexperience the world and share the message of what America has tooffer the world. Isn't it time to bring that message to Cuba?

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