On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, the Trump administration set new travel restrictions to Cuba for U.S. citizens, including banning recreational travel. The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a statement that it is “removing the authorization for group people-to-people educational travel,” and no longer will private aircraft and boats be eligible for a license exception. We reached out to tour operators, cruise lines and travel advisors to get their reaction to these new travel restrictions.
“We strongly disagree with these new travel restrictions, which will unfairly harm the Cuban people,” says Chad Olin, CEO & Founder of CUBA CANDELA, which creates private custom tours for individuals (couples and families) that are conducted under the “support for the Cuban people” travel authorization and will not be impacted by the elimination of group people-to-people travel. “The vast majority of Americans who have actually visited Cuba understand that Trump’s isolation policy is misguided and ineffective. Furthermore, it is un-American to limit our citizens’ travel decisions. And, with the elimination of Cuba cruise travel, as many as 8,000 Americans could lose their jobs, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.”
Peggy Goldman, president and founder of Friendly Planet Travel, says that “this move will not diminish Americans’ desire to visit Cuba and learn about its culture. The genie is out of the bottle, and we will always find a legal way to bring people to the amazing destination of Cuba. We are in conversations with our legal representation in destination now and will modify our programs to conform with other licenses that make travel possible. Our travel program is not about sun tanning, but rather a deeply immersive experience with homestays and the majority of meals in paladares. It’s about forming a deep connection with the Cuban people and our travel is always planned with the betterment of the destination at its core. We intend to continue offering legal tours to Cuba. We’re not giving up on Cuba and we don’t think anyone else should either.”
Olin, too, remains optimistic, pointing out that “travel to Cuba with CUBA CANDELA remains safe, legal and extraordinarily enriching, as our clients participate in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people and engage in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people, through wonderful immersive cultural experiences that comply with U.S. travel rules.”
Apple Vacations, whose programs are operated via Cuba Travel Services and fall under the “support for the Cuban people” category, will also continue to operate its Cuba departures as scheduled. Apple Vacations also plans to develop new Cuba itineraries that are consistent with current U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations in conjunction with Cuba Travel Services. “There is still high demand for Cuba, and Apple Vacations will continue to offer opportunities for American travelers to interact with Cuban culture in compliance with OFAC regulations,” said John Tarkowski, Apple Vacations’ president, in a statement.
Access Culinary Trips, too, will still be able to operate trips to Cuba under the category of “support for the Cuban people.” “We have long believed in the power of immersive travel to effect change and serve as a bridge between countries and cultures,” states Tamar Lowell, CEO of Access Culinary Trips, which has operated trips to Cuba since 2015. “Despite the changes in some categories of travel to Cuba, we continue to see strong demand for our tours, which enable our guests to experience the vibrancy of the Cuban culture and connect with the locals in a meaningful way.”
In terms of the cruise lines, in their statement, Virgin Voyages says that, “we are disappointed to hear of the administration’s decision to halt travel to Cuba.” And Roger Frizzell, chief communications officer for Carnival Corporation, confirmed on Wednesday (June 5, 2019) that “due to changes in U.S. policy, the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba effective immediately. Currently, Carnival Corporation is sailing to Cuba on Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line, and Seabourn has been scheduled to begin sailing in November to Cuba. Additional details for currently booked cruises will be provided by the cruise lines.”
CLIA’s statement came in on Wednesday as well, stating that “the United States government has announced the immediate implementation of new regulations that prohibit previously approved cruise line travel to Cuba from the United States. Without warning, CLIA cruise line members are forced to eliminate all Cuba destinations from all itineraries effective immediately. This affects nearly 800,000 passenger bookings that are scheduled or already underway. All these bookings had been made under a general license previously issued by the United States government that authorized ‘people to people’ travel to Cuba. The new rules effectively make it illegal to cruise to Cuba from the United States. While this situation is completely beyond our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba.”
There was also a rush of reactions on Recommend’s Facebook page, with Megan Austin, manager of Anthem Travel, LLC, stating that, “Having just gone there with Azamara in November and making connections with some local tour guides and meeting some of the Cuban people, I am heart broken for this loss of revenue they will see (the locals). They already had it hard and with the dramatic increase of U.S. citizens visiting the island in recent years, saw an increase in local business and entrepreneurship.” Travel advisor Olympia Taylor notes that she has “clients that just returned from Cuba. They had a blast. I have another group going soon—or maybe not now.” And travel advisor Charles Gray adds “it’s always sad when politics is made to enter travel. This was not unexpected, though I wouldn’t be surprised if restrictions on Mexico are coming.”
For more information on the details of these new restrictions, please click here.
This article was updated on Wednesday, June 5.