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Ambassadors Group to restart Cuba tours for adult professionals

Spokane travel provider Ambassadors Group is resuming a travel program that organizes tours of Cuba for adult professionals.

The company’s first group of 15 travelers will visit Cuba in July, taking part in an education exchange covering seven days, company officials said.

Ambassadors Group primarily sends students on guided “People to People” trips overseas. It also offers some guided programs for professional groups.

Though the Obama administration still administers economic sanctions against Cuba, some travel restrictions to that country were relaxed in 2009.

“Cuba presents an opportunity for us to provide adults with a chance to see a country they haven’t been able to see,” said Nicola Balmain, Ambassadors’ vice president of travel services.

“This will appeal to citizens intrigued by that culture and who want to encounter the spirit of that country,” she said.

In the 1990s, Ambassadors ran a similar program for Cuban travel. But the license expired in the early 2000s under the Bush administration.

Private citizens trying to visit Cuba must establish a special reason to visit.

But under U.S. rules, companies like Ambassadors Group can offer travel as long the program takes professional groups on guided tours with a focus on cultural exchange and education.

Ambassadors Group recently received a license to offer that service, Balmain said.

“We were fortunate in that we were approved for an (Department of Treasury) exchange program that is called, coincidentally ‘People-to-People’ and that also matches our core focus,” Balmain said.

U.S. rules say specifically the travelers must book the trip through a licensed tour operator and take part in “educational exchange activities that result in meaningful interaction” with Cubans.

In practical terms, that means the trips – which will usually run for seven days – are scheduled to provide travelers with a busy itinerary, she added.

Ambassadors’ license is good until January 2014. Balmain said the goal is to renew it for another year.

The first July program going to Cuba will cost $4,799 per person. Its focus will be on early childhood education, starting with visits to educators in Havana and complemented by trips to other cities.

Later trips will be for sociologists, lawyers, physicians and business leaders.