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Cuban officials sell the island as a tourist destination to US travel operators

Major U.S. travel operators gathered in a downtown Washington hotel Wednesday to listen to a pitch for business from Cuban government officials, who appeared on a giant screen via the Internet from Havana to tout the island.

The meeting — which one of its organizers said was a first — came as travel companies eagerly eye congressional efforts to lift the restrictions that prohibit most Americans from traveling to Cuba.

The operators watched promotional videos of tourists frolicking in the surf, lounging on sugar-white beaches and exploring old Havana. They asked Cuban officials when they'd be ready for what the president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, Bob Whitley, called a "mass rush" of American tourists, should the ban be scrapped. Whitley's group sponsored the event along with the National Tour Association.

"We are ready the first minute," Miguel Figueras Perez, a senior adviser to Cuba's Ministry of Tourism, told the group. "Let us know, please."

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