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Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce plans Cuba trip

The Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce is planning a trip to Cuba for its members and other San Luis Obispo County residents this summer — possibly making it the first chamber in California to get the opportunity to travel to the country in decades, according to chamber Chief Executive Peter Candela.

At least 30 and as many as 90 people might be able to join the chamber’s trip, which is scheduled for nine days starting June 12.

The Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce is also planning a trip to the Communist island nation through the same company, Chamber Explorations, in September.

Candela said he’s been trying to organize a trip to Cuba for the past three years, including in his previous role as head of the Morro Bay chamber.

“It’s historical on a couple of levels,” he said, noting the United State’s 50-year travel and trade embargo with Cuba. “We don’t know what’s going to come out of it. We want the opportunity to show members and the community what that country is all about.”

The Pismo Beach chamber’s trip will be open first to members and then to others in the community because of its distinct nature, he said. A general orientation will be held Feb. 2; those interested in learning more can call the chamber at 773-4382.

Both trips cost the same: $3,899 per person, which includes a direct flight from Los Angeles International Airport, Cuban medical insurance and “people-to-people interactions with Cuban citizens,” according to the company’s website.

The Arroyo Grande chamber will also sign up at least 30 people or more depending on interest.

That chamber’s trip starts Sept. 11 and is also open to nonmembers. An informational meeting is Feb. 1 at 5:15 p.m. at South County Regional Center, 800 W. Branch St.

“For me, it’s a trip-of-a-lifetime kind of thing,” Arroyo Grande chamber President and CEO Judith Bean said. The itinerary includes a total of six nights in Havana and two nights in the city of Trinidad.

According to the itinerary, U.S. law requires that all travelers joining the program adhere to the full-time schedule.

Restrictions on family travel to Cuba were lifted in April 2009.

In January 2011, exceptions to the U.S. embargo were announced, allowing other Americans to visit the country if they do so for educational, cultural or religions reasons, or on “people-to-people travel” with a licensed operator.

The operator must sponsor or organize “educational exchange programs to promote contact with the Cuban people,” according to a travel advisory issued by the U.S. Treasury Department last summer.

Roughly 1.7 million tourists visited Cuba in 2001, generating about $1.85 billion in gross revenue; by 2010 that number was 2.53 million visitors, and had generated $2.4 billion, according to the U.S state department.

Canadians comprise the largest number of foreign tourists to Cuba, with nearly 1 million visiting the island in 2010.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The secondary headline with this story has been corrected to reflect that the Obama administration, not Cuba's Communist government, eased travel restrictions to the island nation.

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