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Mon Dec 22, 2014, 12:41 PM

South Florida charter and ferry companies hoping to capitalize on improved US-Cuba relations

South Florida charter and ferry companies hoping to capitalize on improved US-Cuba relations

By: Aisling Swift
Posted: 6:22 AM, Dec 22, 2014

NAPLES, Fla. - As President Barack Obama promises better U.S. relations with Cuba, some south Florida-based charter and ferry companies hope to capitalize on trips to the communist island and its beautiful historic capital.
The Key West Express in Fort Myers Beach hopes to provide travelers with the Cuba Express to Havana if U.S. restrictions are fully lifted.

“If they open it up, I’m definitely going to go,” said Joseph Miller, a manager of Key West Express LLC. “It’s too early to know yet, but there’s a lot of interest and we could be there in five hours.”

While travel to the country is still limited, just the prospect of improved U.S. relations with Cuba has charter operators like Miller hoping and planning for greater opportunities.
“There’s a lot of interest,” said Miller, who started his business in 1997, then increased it by joining four partners from hotel and boating businesses seven years later. “There’s going to be plenty of competition on the East Coast and Tampa. But if there’s room for me, I’m in.”

The flurry of interest follows Obama’s announcement last week that economic and travel restrictions with Cuba had been eased and diplomatic relations had been re-established. The announcement ended what he called America’s “outdated approach,” a historic shift that halted a half-century of Cold War enmity with the communist island.

Phillip Richards, president of Havana Ferry Partners LLC of Fort Lauderdale, has filed applications yearly since he started his business in 2009, asking the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control for permission to ferry passengers to Cuba. He’s been hauling cargo since then.
“We’ve had people in the wings just waiting for this,” Richards said of a ferry service that would cut about $300 from the cost of an airfare and allow more luggage. “The Europeans have been allowed to travel there for years. Now we have to play catch up.


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