It was only in last year that U.S. airlines got the right to operate scheduled flights to Cuba. But now the future of that service might be in doubt due to new travel restrictions imposed by the Trump Administration that take effect this week.
The new rules do not ban or restrict U.S. airlines or cruise lines from operating in Cuba. But they do impose strict new limits on the kind of trips Americans can take to the island – and that could dampen demand to the point where airlines reduce or eliminate flight schedules there. (Even before the new rules, some U.S. carriers had already cut back their schedules to Cuba because they had overestimated demand.)
The new regulations also bar Americans from staying at dozens of hotels or shopping in stores that the U.S. says are owned by commercial entities controlled by the Cuban military. The Dept of State amassed a list of nearly 80 hotels now off-limits to Americans, including the newest, nicest hotel in town, the gorgeous sugar-white Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski in central Havana which goes for about $500 per night. (In a country where citizens earn about $1 per day.) Instead, the Washington Post reports, “the new regulations encourage Americans to stay in rooms rented by private citizens and to eat in private restaurants that have been allowed for a number of years as part of a growing Cuban private sector.” Which means stays at private casas particulares (via Airbnb) and meals at family-run paladares are still okay. Also, none of the new Marriott/Starwood hotels appear on the banned list.
The biggest impact is likely to come from the Administration’s decision to put a halt to individual “people-to-people” travel that was allowed up until this week, along with other non-academic individual trips.
Instead, Americans who want to go to Cuba will now have to travel as part of a group for a purpose approved by the Treasury Department; each group must be accompanied by someone from the tour operator or organization sponsoring the trip– similar to how the few American visited Cuba prior to Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations and “don’t ask don’t tell” rules for Americans traveling there.
Even under the previous rules, individual vacation trips were not officially allowed, since a U.S. trade embargo remained in place. But U.S. travelers could self-identify their trips as falling into one of many approved categories, but enforcement was lax to non-existent. Most Americans traveled to Cuba just like they traveled to any other country in the world.
Thankfully, those who already booked an upcoming flight or hotel stay in Cuba before the new rules took effect this week are exempted for the purposes of that trip. More details about the new restrictions are now on the Treasury Department website.
What’s important to know is that even after Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba, the trade embargo remained in effect. Only at act of Congress can get rid of that, so don’t expect travel to Cuba to get easier any time soon.
What do you think about restrictions on American travel to Cuba? Step in the right direction or step back in time? Please leave your comments below.
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