HAVANA, April 19th New restrictions were announced last night for US travellers wishing to visit Cuba, throwing the travel industry into confusion about whether Americans will still be able to vacation there.
Travel to Cuba from the USA has been difficult for decades but during his presidency, Barack Obama eased many restrictions, sparking a renewal in interest in vacationing on the Caribbean island in 2015. Despite some tightening of rules in June 2018, the guidelines remained vague enough for US travellers to continue to make the trip. There were 12 distinct categories that visitors could apply for a ‘general licence’ to visit Cuba, meaning travel was still possible, if a little more confusing.
Among the host of new rules, the US government has announced further restrictions on what it calls “non-family travel”, i.e. limiting travel to Cuba of people with no relatives on the island. So what does this mean for most visitors? Marcel Hatch from Cuba Explorer, which has been taking Americans to Cuba for 22 years, told Lonely Planet that “the mainstream news is full of headlines shouting “Cuba travel has ended.” That’s just not true. Nor will Cuba travel end after the White House issues new guidelines.”
“The 12 general license travel categories will not be eliminated as that would impinge on the constitutional right of Americans for freedom to travel”, he assures us. However, he does anticipate a rewording and a tightening of the categories, although American businesses like cruise lines and airlines will have their say before a final decision is made.
What happens if you’ve already booked a trip to Cuba?
“Sadly, yesterday’s speech already achieved its objective of reducing Cuba visits by scaring and confusing Americans into believing Cuba travel has or will end soon”, Marcel says. “Any Cuba travel arrangements made by Americans prior to changes will be valid”, he explains, even bookings made after yesterday’s announcement. “Our advice for Americans planning to visit Cuba is nothing as has changed or will change as long as you intend to engage in full time cultural, educational and humanitarian activities with the Cuban people.”
The USA is a big market for Cuba tourism but while the news will undoubtedly be a blow, it’s unlikely to stop the allure of the fascinating country. 2018 was a record year for Cuban tourism with 4.8 million visitors and the country reinvigorated marketing in many European countries at the start of this year.