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U.S. policy changes toward Cuba prompt excitement in travel industry

Cruise lines and airlines work on business plans in case market opens

MIAMI – With both countries easing requirements for travel licenses, the airline and cruise line industries are preparing for the anticipated high demand.

Tourism will not be allowed until Congress lifts the ban. But tell that to Beyonce and Jay Z who celebrated their anniversary in Cuba last year, and Juanes, who founded the Peace Without Borders concert in 2009.

"You just can't go online and book a flight. I wish it was like that; it would be a lot easier," Ernesto Sarduy said Thursday while preparing to fly from Miami International Airport to Cuba.  He added that he thought the U.S. was "moving in the right direction" and he "was looking forward to more good things to happen in the future."

Some investors hoping the market will open were also giving the industries a boost Wednesday. The shares of Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Carnival Cruise Lines all went up.

"Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, and it presents numerous opportunities from a cruise industry perspective," Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell  said in a statement. "Some infrastructure for cruising already exists in the country, along with several ports, so it offers great potential"

Frizzell added that there are other issues that will need to be taken into consideration if the market opens up. Royal Caribbean's vice president and global chief communications officer, Rob Zeiger, said the Cruise Lines International Association was assessing the implications. 

"There are a number of factors for consideration before a cruise line would commit to adding a destination to an itinerary," Zeiger said in a statement. "With Cuba, these include infrastructure and port facilities, and regulatory and policy considerations."

Both Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International airport have have thousands of daily flights to and from Cuba.

Several airlines have expressed interest in adding commercial flights out of Fort Lauderdale if the political situation changes.

In the commercial flights arena, the news was exciting. The International Trade Commission estimated in 2001 that the embargo was costing U.S. exporters up to $1.2 billion annually in lost sales.

Xael Charters with JetBlue planes and has flights on Fridays from Fort Lauderdale to Havana. IBC has charter flights out of Fort Lauderdale to Guantanamo Bay.

American Airlines, American Eagle, Sun Country, World Atlantic, Vision Airlines, Falcon Air Express, and Swift Air are some of the many airlines that fly to Havana out of Miami.

"American proudly serves more destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America than any other carrier, giving us a unique understanding of the people and cultures of the region," an American Airlines representative said. "We will continue to be guided by the laws and policies of our government, and the governments of the countries we serve, as they evolve."

Other changes in policy will make it more appealing for people to travel to Cuba. The U.S. will allow travelers to use credit cards and debit cards on the island.

Travelers will also be allowed to bring Cuban cigars and alcohol products to Miami, as long as they are valued at $100. They will be allowed to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba for personal use. And relatives will also be allowed to send remittances of $2,000 every three months -- a $1,500 raise from the $500 previously allowed.