Sunday, May 10, 2009

In Block-ade-Buster Move, Orbitz Launches 'Open Cuba' Campaign

Orbitz is offering a $100 coupon toward a four-night vacation package to Cuba and the online travel agency's Away.com brand is featuring a Cuba Travel Guide, with tips about exploring Old Havana and the Afro-Cuban heritage in Santiago de Cuba.

Imagine that.

It's all part of a petition campaign and website that Orbitz is officially launching tomorrow that calls on Congress and the Obama administration to end the 50-year-old Cuba travel ban. The petition reads:

"We call on you to reverse our failed policy of isolation and end the 50-year ban on travel to Cuba in the United States. We believe that every American should have the freedom to travel to any country in the world, including Cuba, because the interaction between peoples from different countries is the single most powerful way to advance the causes of peace and prosperity."

In light of the Obama administration's steps to loosen travel to Cuba by Cuban families, I heartily endorse the effort.

Americans should have the right to travel anywhere, and I give credit to Orbitz for taking the bold step to take a leadership position in the travel industry on this issue.

Orbitz and market-research firm Ipsos released a poll in tandem with the campaign launch that shows that 67 percent of respondents would back a plan to allow travel agents to book Cuba travel and 63 percent supported allowing online travel agencies to do so, as well.

I believe this was a bold move by Orbitz because the OTA risks a boycott and a backlash.

And, it's also curious that the Interactive Travel Services Association, the trade group that represents major OTAs and global distribution systems (GDSs) like Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus, didn't lead or at least join in the effort.

Perhaps there is some dissension in ITSA about the move.

As much as I applaud Orbitz's Open Cuba campaign, I have to say that offering the $100 coupon for Cuba travel cheapens the effort.

Signers of the petition get emailed a promotion code, which is good toward a four-night Cuba air-hotel vacation package if you register on Orbitz.com and once the federal government approves travel to Cuba for the general public.

Orbitz officials plan on presenting the petition to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C., later this year, but the coupon offering opens Orbitz to charges that the petition signers may have been swayed by the discount.

At any rate, I hope other major travel companies and nontravel companies join the campaign.

It is not only a travel issue, but a human rights issue.

There is growing momentum toward lifting the Cuba travel ban and travel companies, including some airlines, are getting excited. AirTran Airways and Allegiant Air already are dusting off plans.

In the Orbitz-Ipsos poll, 72 percent of respondents said they believe restarting U.S.-to-Cuba travel would benefit the daily lives of the Cuban people.

Clearly, the boycott hasn't worked and only has served to cause greater suffering for the Cuban people.

Let's take this opportunity to push travel to Cuba and to put pressure on Raoul Castro to open up the society.

1 comment:

roger said...

Awesome! As a Cuban-American born in the US, it's extremely difficult to accept the travel ban to a country [Cuba] where my family comes from.

I'm 34 years old and tired of this Travel Ban! I want to see the country where my entire family comes from without restrictions.