The company has years of knowledge and research on this highly-coveted destination but has refused to offer it until now. Prior to the changes made in January, it was illegal for most U.S. tour operators and travel agencies to offer or counsel Cuba as a destination, even to citizens of other countries. That changed at the beginning of this year, along with the relaxation of many other restrictions on U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and the company has been working diligently ever since to offer options within its repertoire.
CEO Cheryl Patterson explains the reason for the launch now rather than immediately following President Obama’s announcement of these changes: “Ever since the President’s speech mid-January, our phones have been ringing off the hook with people seeking travel to Cuba. American’s have been ready to visit Cuba for a long time, but we asked our clients to give us a little longer to ensure we comply with the legalities and details of the changes that allow travel there. The announcement listed 12 general licenses that would now allow them access looked at first glance to be easy. Many divers asked if they could simply claim they were going under the research category, for example, and go off on a dive trip. But it is not that cut and dry. If you dig a little deeper into the articles, there are very specific criteria for each of those categories that have to be met to satisfy the U.S. Government and the itineraries a traveler books and completes must legitimately meet it in full. There are also some entry requirements American travelers require to satisfy the Cuban government. There are some complex issues to doing it the legal way and the reality is that not all travel arrangers are able to provide all of that which is necessary. While not terribly difficult, these additional steps must be completed and are very unique when booking a trip to Cuba. We are now in a position to make the process as easy as possible and walk our clientele through each one.”
Cheryl continues “One of our liveaboard partners recently introduced and is currently building an option which enables divers to book to Cuba’s best region for diving through their favorite dive travel retailer. But we wanted to be able to offer our clients additional options and to establish ourselves as experts in our field. We have months of calls into the Department of Treasury, negotiations with various organizations and research with suppliers on the ground in Cuba. We really have done our homework and have established some excellent connections. However, we still felt that it was not enough. With increasing reports of U.S. travelers being intercepted and fined heavily upon return because they didn’t follow the rules, we believed it necessary to test each component for ourselves before we were willing to offer Cuba as a destination for our clients”.
This week Patterson returned from 9 days in Cuba with a small select group of industry professionals and customers who test-ran a combination of liveaboard diving in Cuba’s highly protected marine park mixed with days of cultural land-based activities in the country’s capital and in the countryside. “It is with both pride and sheer delight that I can report that the trip not only went off without a hitch, but I believe I can speak for all participants when I tell you that we had a phenomenal experience. As well as excellent and exciting diving, we had some truly deep and memorable personal interactions with Cuban people from a variety of walks of life and saw and learned so much about their history and culture. It is interesting, because while creating and completing an itinerary that makes the government happy, the result is actually a far richer experience for the traveler in the process. This was by no means an ordinary dive trip and purely from a personal aspect as someone who loves to travel, it was a week I will always treasure and be grateful that I got to do. I am excited that we can now confidently provide the opportunity for others to do the same”.
At this time, Deep Blue Adventures has listed on their website various options in the marine park Cheryl dived as a recommended starting point for serious divers. Cultural and/or educational days are then tailored around a customer’s preferred selection. She is currently working on creating additional qualifying itineraries with land-based diving options and sustainable and educational focused trips. Anyone interested in traveling to Cuba is encouraged to contact the company by email: [email protected] or phone 419-517-6309 or 888-266-2209 for personalized service and consultation. This includes dive centers and organizations seeking to arrange group travel or sellers of travel who have individual customers looking to explore Cuba independently.
Due to the volume of interest, Patterson is also sharing her experiences from her own personal standpoint through a blog on the company’s Facebook page.
September 9, 2015