When President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba in January 2015, American travelers, tour operators and airlines lost no time. Curious Americans flooded the island’s colonial cities and tobacco-growing plains; Airbnb added thousands of Cuban homes to its offerings; and a handful of American airlines began direct flights to the island.
But new restrictions reportedly under discussion by the Trump administration could significantly dampen the euphoric boom in American travel to the island.
The scope of any changes — which an official said Mr. Trump would like to announce this month — is still unclear.
But officials indicate that the government could revert to regulations that require Americans to apply for a specific license to travel to Cuba, rather than traveling under the current “general license,” which involves no paperwork.
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That would turn the clock back to the days before the détente, when most Americans could visit Cuba only as part of an organized group rather than under their own steam — making travel to the island more costly and less spontaneous.
Philip Peters, the president of the Cuba Research Center, who has taken dozens of groups to the island, predicted “a decline in American travel to Cuba” if new regulations made going to the island “more expensive and more cumbersome.”
Stricter rules might also spook potential travelers, said Michael Sykes, president of Cuba Cultural Travel, which has organized travel to the island for decades.
“Americans want to abide by the law,” he said. “If there’s any kind of doubt or suspicion that they’re doing something that’s not right, they won’t go.”
Still, travel to Cuba before the countries restored relations was easier than many Americans realized, Cuba travel experts noted. It may become a question of doing more homework to make sure your purpose for travel fits one of the permitted categories.
And when Americans do go to Cuba, their chances of staying in an American-run hotel may be about to shrink.
The new regulations may ban American companies from entering into commercial agreements with companies linked to or run by the Cuban military.
Given that several hotel brands in Cuba come under the umbrella of the military-run conglomerate known as Gaesa , that would reduce the scope for deals to manage Cuban hotel properties — like the one made with Starwood last year.
Conscious of the crimp that new restrictions would place on their burgeoning business, 40-odd travel organizations in May signed a letter to President Trump that outlined the business, political and cultural benefits of travel to the island.
Travel to Cuba can be confusing in the best of times, and uncertainty about possible policy changes makes planning a trip there more challenging