Travel to Cuba just got more difficult for Americans after the Trump administration announced a ban on cruise ships, private planes and boats to the Caribbean island.
The new regulations come in the midst of a Cuban travel boon that was seemingly on its way to hitting the record-breaking numbers – 5.1 million visitors, according to the tourism board projection for 2019.
What is going on?
As part of its rollback of Obama-era policies that relaxed travel regulations to Cuba, the Trump administration recently announced more restrictions regarding US travel to the island nation.
Perhaps the most widely felt of these new policies is the prohibition of US cruise ships from traveling to the Caribbean country. The administration stated travelers who purchased tickets before the ban could still visit Cuba, though details on that process are currently unclear.
According to media reports, cruise line companies were caught off guard by the sudden announcement and a few have either canceled or rerouted itineraries to other countries. Royal Caribbean, for instance, is re-routing all of its previously-booked Cuban itineraries to the Bahamas and offering customers either a full refund or a 50 percent discount on the new itinerary.
Commercial airlines have not been not impacted by the new regulations. Travel policies for academic and university groups, journalists and professional meetings remain unchanged.
The Trump administration has also doubled-down on its regulations on the "people-to-people" educational category, a popular method Americans used to enter Cuba, as it applied to individual and group trips. The administration first announced the end of the people-to-people option for individuals in June 2017, and the regulations were enacted in November of that year. The newest policy restricts all forms of travel (group and individual) in the people-to-people category.
Can Americans still travel to Cuba?
Yes. Commercial airlines still travel to Cuba, though the number of flights will likely decrease if Americans opt to sidestep the bureaucratic hassle.
How will the new regulations affect Cubans?
The Cuban government reportedly imposed food rations last month as a result of U.S. sanctions and the loss of aid from Venezuela.
The Trump administration's new policy will inevitably hit small private Cuban businesses adversely. Americans traveling to Cuba on people-to-people trips in 2016-17 generally made a beeline for well-run, economical casas particulares and high-quality private restaurants and Cuba’s private tourist sector blossomed (even Obama ate at a private restaurant).
The loss of revenue from cruise lines will likely lead to the closure of many privately-owned businesses.
America's impact on Cuba?
Despite Hurricane Irma, a US Department of State travel warning and new regulations instituted by the Trump administration, Cuba welcomed 4.8 million visitors in 2018, slight increase from 4.5 million visitors in 2017.
Prior to the most recent announcements from the US government, this year seemed to be trending in a similar direction. According to the Associated Press, 142,721 people visited the island during the first four months of 2019, representing an increase of more than 300 percent over the same period of time last year.
Americans are the second-largest visiting foreigners to Cuba after Canadians.
At this point, the future of Cuban tourism is uncertain, but the industry is likely to take a major hit once the new US travel policies are fully instituted.