Cuba is a fabulous “bucket list” destination, with those memorable vintage cars, historic architecture, music and dancing everywhere, including in the streets, interesting art and history museums, including the home of Hemingway, and friendly people hungry for contact with Americans.
I’ve been to Cuba twice in the last six years, and ready to return to explore more.
But the recent Trump Administration announcement earlier in April 2019 that it would be issuing new rules about non-family travel to Cuba is causing stress for travelers who already planned a trip this summer or fall, perhaps even paid for it, and for travel providers, including airlines, cruise lines, hotels and tour operators.
Here’s what you need to know about changes to travel to Cuba from Edward Piegza, founder of Classic Journeys, which curates in-depth trips to Cuba.
How do the new rules affect travel to Cuba?
So far, the Office of Foreign Assets Control – the section at the Department of the Treasury that regulates the trade and travel embargo to Cuba and which issues licenses for travel to Cuba – has not published details about the policy change.
All we know so far is what national security advisor John Bolton said, “The Department of the Treasury will implement further regulatory changes to restrict non-family travel to Cuba.” But no details.
Should you cancel an upcoming trip…or will it be cancelled?
Without details, tour operators like Classic Journeys are proceeding with trips to Cuba as planned.
Nobody knows when (or if) the new policy may go into effect, or what the actual impact might be, so you should check with your cruise line, airline, hotel and tour operator to be sure that your trip still is happening.
It may be that the announcement was a political chess move to apply pressure to Cuba, and the economic loss it would face by limiting American tourism, over the recent alleged sonic attacks on US diplomats in Havana, or Cuba’s active support of the vicious dictatorship in Venezuela, or both.
Until there is specific guidance to the contrary, Classic Journeys will continue to accept reservations and run their programs as scheduled”, Piegza told ecoXplorer.
The city of Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary in 2019, and there are special events throughout the year, which are influencing tourism.
One event that has has grown in popularity is the annual Habanos Festival, the biggest international event of the world’s best tobacco, the Habano, a main ingredient in Cuba’s world-famous cigars.
If you don’t already have travel insurance, purchase it now.
Depending on how often you travel, choose either a per-trip policy or an annual one. I have an annual policy, which covers me for lost baggage, medical costs out of the USA, and cancellations.
Other travel to Cuba changes the Trump administration has made
The Trump administration has reversed several policies which were loosened during the Obama presidency.
In 2017, the Trump administration ruled that visitors from America would not be permitted to stay in hotels owned by the Cuban government.
Earlier, the Obama administration created its own confusion for travelers when he signaled that Americans might be able to write their own people-to-people itinerary for travel to Cuba.
According to Piegza, “This created a sort of wild, wild west approach to travel with travelers confused and hotels in Cuba were overwhelmed.”
When Trump arrived in office, he indicated that he might shut down travel to Cuba entirely, then backed down to settle on what President Obama originally allowed in 2013.
“So, between spring 2013 and fall 2017 there was a complete evolution of how Americans could travel to Cuba, with people to people programs through licensed companies like Classic Journeys the way to go.”
Once again, the recent announcement did not address the scheduled flights to Cuba currently available. Since 2016, carriers including Delta, American and JetBlue launched regularly scheduled flights.
If the new policy reduces demand, it is logical that they may pare back their schedules. But so far that has not happened.”
How will this affect the people of Cuba?
Increased travel from the USA has benefited Cubans significantly, and tourism from Europe, too, has adding to their propserity and general welfare.
So has a loosening of rules by the Cuban government for its own citizens.
The first time I visited, when Fidel Castro was alive and in power, there was internet only in hotels, and only for foreigners. There simply was no access to the outside world for the ordinary Cuban citizen.
The second time I visited, when Fidel’s brother Raoul had taken over, there were cell phones everywhere, more of the historic buildings in Old Havana had been renovated, and there were modern, air-conditioned tour buses.
The Cubans have been through a great deal of deprivation in the last 60 years. They’ve always managed to bear their hardships with grace and warm solidarity in their families and communities, and an ingenuity exhibited by some inventive ways the vintage vehicles of Cuba have been maintained and restored.
One known feature of the new regulations is that they will cap the money that can be sent to Cubans from friends and family members in the U.S. at $1,000 per person every three months.
In a country where the median monthly salary is just $32, many Cubans rely on family members outside Cuba, including in the USA, to help support them.
The cap on such remittance income will impact everyday life.
In addition, since tourism had become a major source of income for Cubans, so any reduction in that resource will echo throughout the country and hurt the poorest people who can least afford it.
Also, many Cubans who work in the growing tourism industry could lose their jobs, further impacting individual families and the economy in general.
How should travelers and agents approach Cuba as a travel destination?
“Until we can learn more about the follow-through on the broadly stated new policy, we are approaching Cuba as we always have – with care, enthusiasm, and with pride in the fact that travel has changed the lives of our American guests and the Cubans they’ve met in overwhelmingly positive ways. We urge you to hold fast to your plans. And if you’ve been hesitating to plan a Cuban trip, we encourage you to do so now,” said Piezga.