The US State Department upgraded Cuba’s category in its travel advisory system from Level 3 “reconsider travel” to Level 2 “exercise increased caution” – the Caribbean island now joins European nations such as Germany, Italy, France, and the UK.
The news comes as a summer breeze for Cuba’s emergent private sector –owners of private restaurants, homestay rentals, taxi drivers, tour guides– who saw a record-breaking year in 2017, with 620,000 arrivals from the US that fueled an incipient development in tourism-related businesses. After the State Department’s Level 3 labeling last January, the number of US visitors dropped 24% in the first semester of 2018 compared to the same period on the previous year, according to Reuters.
Rafael López, a private-homestay owner in Havana, explained to Lonely Planet News that the “American tourism boom to Cuba not only fueled our businesses but it also turned the eyes of other travelers to Cuba, from Europe and Latin-America, who wanted to discover the island ‘before it changed’”, referring to the idea that the rapprochement between Cuba and the US in 2014 would bring new investments and a dramatic cosmetic change to the time-warped island nation. “Cuba offers a unique, vintage glamour, combined with many Unesco-listed natural wonders – it’s just a shame if Americans miss that, being so close to us,” López added.
Also, Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, noted that “Cuba continues to be one of the safest countries in the world to visit and hundreds of thousands of Americans –and millions of global travelers– enjoy all that it has to offer each year with no health or security risks to note.”
This is the second upgrading in less than a year for Cuba after the department overhauled its country-specific system in January 2018. The system indicates each country’s travel safety in a 4-level scale, with Level 1 being “exercise normal precautions” and Level 4 “do not travel”.
Some of the most visited European countries also hold a Level 2 caution. In the case of Cuba, the downgrade in January came after still-unexplained health problems experienced over a year ago by US embassy personnel in Havana. No tourists have been reported to be affected by the alleged health incidents.