How Will Trump's New Policy Directive Affect U.S. Travel to Cuba?
To sum up, here are the main expectations: embassies in Washington and Havana that reopened in 2015 after half a century will remain open. Restricted group tourism will continue, but rules will be tightened.
There will be a prohibition against transactions with companies controlled by the Cuban military, which is much of the hotel and tourism industry. It will cool economic ties. And Cubans who have increased their participation in tourism will especially suffer.
Although the Cuban travel policy will mean tighter travel restrictions, the resumption of direct U.S.-Cuba commercial flights, and new cruise line routes will remain.
By the book, U.S. law already bans tourism to Cuba. But the Obama administration had been allowing people to travel there as part of “people to people” educational trips. I visited Cuba a couple of years ago on one of these group trips, and reported about seeing the sites and meeting the people.
But there was no down time by the pool -- the emphasis was on Cuban culture and on the Cuban people and their way of life. We visited retirement homes and schools, monuments and cemeteries, attended lectures and music and dance presentations, and sites such as Hemingway's house.
But canny tourists interested in more of the sun-and-fun aspect of this Caribbean island have been able to use the sanctioned educational visits as a cover for solo trips to snorkel some of the world's best preserved coral reefs or lounge on pristine beaches, drinking fine rum and smoking the best cigars.
This bending of rules will be difficult with the new policy. Trips now will only be possible with a licensed tour group, as it was before last year. The Treasury Department will be auditing.
The new policy directive eliminates individual trips outside of 12 authorized categories, including religious, artistic and journalistic activities. The revised travel policy will mean a tighter enforcement of current rules, designed so that Americans tourists adhere legally to the authorized categories. Not adhering to these rules will result in hefty fines, inevitably discouraging tourists who will fear reprisals and skip the leisure aspects.
The new, more restrictive policy will surely dampen new economic ties to Cuba, but existing business deals such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels (owned by Marriott International Inc), to manage a historic Havana hotel, reportedly will continue. There are also no plans to change the amount of the island’s rum and cigars that Americans can bring home for personal use.
The travel industry -- airlines, Airbandb, cruise lines, hotel chains -- and those who travel and want to travel to Cuba, will be focused on the changes and how they will affect tourism on both the business and personal sides. And there will be inevitable push back.
By tightening rules for American tourists, thousands of travel jobs and billions of dollars are at stake. And at least for the short term, our relationship with Cuba will be chilled.