KEY LARGO — The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a trip to Cuba this fall that is open to chamber members and others who would like to learn more about the island nation’s business climate. Nineteen spaces are available.
In 2015, President Obama loosened some travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba. While the U.S. embargo is still in place, American companies can now open locations and hire workers in Cuba.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew said in September, “A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike.”
So perhaps it’s natural that the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, a booster of local business opportunities, has announced that it is hosting a nine-day trip to the Communist nation across the Florida Straits. Cuban cultural heritage has a strong presence in the Florida Keys that extends from the San Carlos Institute in Key West to Denny’s Latin Cafe Restaurant in Key Largo.
Suzanne Taskowitz, a certified travel agent, owner of Key Largo-based International Travel Group and a chamber ambassador, went to Cuba in June 2014 with a group of 20 travel agents. She felt that a trip with Key Largo business owners and residents would be a good match.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that down the road, businesses in the Keys will do business with Cuba,” said Taskowitz. “I spoke to Lacey [Ekberg, executive director of the Key Largo chamber] and proposed that we could do a program for the community and the businesses. We decided it would be a nice educational situation.”
Ekberg said the chamber wants to be better positioned to take advantage of normalizing relations with Cuba.
“We feel that Cuba will become an integral part of our tourism and business industry in the Keys,” she said. “This is an opportunity for our business members to see what Cuba has to offer, how we can become prepared and ready for the changes, and hopefully be a large part of it.”
Taskowitz has the contacts to ensure that the trip is compliant with the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which authorizes certain forms of travel to Cuba. She is coordinating the trip with Globus, a travel company that is licensed by the government to provide legal trips to Cuba.
U.S. citizens are only authorized to travel to and spend money in Cuba if their trips fall into one of 12 categories, including educational activities, family visits, official government business, journalistic activity and public performances.
The chamber trip will fall under “educational activities,” so the itinerary is crammed with opportunities to learn about the country and interact with its citizens. Participants will want to bring a comfortable pair of shoes, because, among many other activities, they will visit local businesses (including a cigar factory and a tobacco farm), sample restaurants, meet artists, and tour museums and churches. The program will be based in Havana and provide several excursions into the countryside.
“The window of opportunity to visit Cuba is now,” Taskowitz said. “Once tourism gets in there, the ‘Golden Arches’ will arrive and it will morph into yet another Caribbean island. Right now, it’s a time warp.”
Interested residents and chamber members alike are invited to come hear a presentation about the trip at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Key Largo Library community room, mile marker 101.4, oceanside. The trip is $3,500 per person, double occupancy, and will include air fare, hotel, Cuban health insurance, departure tax, the special visa fee, transfers from Key Largo hotels, seven breakfasts, seven lunches and five dinners. Different departure dates include Nov. 5, Nov. 19 or Dec. 3, among others. The deposit to reserve a spot is $550.
For more information call 305-451-0007 or email [email protected]
Charlotte Twine, Free Press Staff
February 10, 2016