Arthur Frommer

More important opportunities in travel, from Italy to Cuba

BY ARTHUR FROMMER

If you haven’t yet made your summer or fall vacation plans, you might want to note that a sort of world’s fair will continue operating in Milan, Italy, throughout September and October. Called Expo Milano 2015, it’s all about unusual and better methods of growing and producing food (like innovative vertical gardens) and the most enticing preparation of meals (in over 150 different restaurants maintained on the grounds). The world’s most imaginative architects (like Sir Norman Foster, and Renzo Piano) have designed several of the expo’s pavilions, and countries (including our own) have sent their most awesome chefs to prepare meals for visitors. Don’t say you weren’t advised.

▪ Although China’s recent devaluation of its currency, the yuan, has spread consternation among economists and financiers (a blow to our competing export industry), the impact on American tourism is all good (if a bit selfish). Trips and tours to China will remain cheap to the American traveler, based on a reduction in the value of the yuan that has thus far reached 4 percent, but probably will grow even more. As a result, you'll continue to see such travel wonders as a $999 airfare from San Francisco included for a week’s stay in China’s chief cities. And bear in mind that China’s devaluation also has caused (and will continue to cause) a decline in the value of Japan’s money. Based on an exchange rate that now exceeds 125 Japanese yen for one U.S. dollar, Japan has – at long last – become a moderately priced destination for American tourists. The sale of guidebooks to Japan (including our own “Easy Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto and Western Honshu”) is booming as a result.

▪ “Congratulations! You’ve just won a free cruise to the Bahamas!” How often have you heard that robotic message on your telephone, and how often have you flung down the receiver in disgust while wondering, “Does any idiot respond favorably to such scams?” Apparently, a great many do, causing the callers to become a large entity. Just this month, the Federal Communications Commission levied a $3 million fine against one such company, a spurious “travel club” that had continued making calls to people who had demanded they be taken off the list of prospects, and it certainly wouldn’t have chosen that figure if it did not believe the miscreant was capable of paying it. Though the FCC based its action on the company’s failure to accept 148 demands to be taken off the list of numbers to be called, I haven’t the slightest idea of how and to whom one should direct such a request when all you have received is a robotic message. Do you? If you do, I’d appreciate your advising of this column.

▪ Confusion continues to reign in the field of travel to Cuba. Though numerous companies (including cruise lines) have announced their intention to bring increasing numbers of Americans to that Caribbean nation, some of them haven’t yet obtained Cuban acquiescence to their plans. To me, there remains – at least for the time being – one surefire method of visiting Cuba. You fly there on the scheduled services of airlines that go to Cuba via their own regularly scheduled flights to their main gateway city – you go there, in other words, on Air Jamaica via Kingston, Jamaica, or on AeroMexico via Cancun, or on several airlines via the Bahamas. And you obtain lodgings with a Cuban family (a casa particular) by contacting either AirBnB.com or any number of companies (they’re easily found on the Internet) that make such apartment or room stays available. Though AirBnB initially announced (rather confusingly) that it would accept business only from licensed travelers to Cuba, it apparently did not mean that it would do business only with people who had actually applied to the Treasury Department for a physical paper license, since such applications are no longer necessary (you can go to Cuba if you simply feel that you fit into 12 named categories of exemptions). The AirBnB.com website dealing with Cuba (simply insert the name into the destination slot) does not seem to impose any greater requirement.

Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.

Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.

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