ABC News: Trump's changes to Cuba policy could make travel more difficult

ABC News


President Donald Trump’s changes to U.S. policy on Cuba could have a chilling effect on some travel to the Caribbean nation, some experts say.

Americans can no longer travel to Cuba with a simple “honor pledge,” Trump announced today. Instead, most Americans must now travel with a tour group and are required to keep all receipts and itemized itineraries from their stay for five years.

U.S. travelers could also be forced to pay a fine if they are found to be in violation of the law.

Previously, individuals could come up with their own itineraries and arrange their own accommodations rather than having to use a tour group or travel company to make the arrangements.

Today’s move essentially returns travel restrictions to what they were before President Obama eased relations in 2014.

James Williams, the president of Engage Cuba, a coalition of private sector companies advocating for engagement in Cuba, told ABC News that Trump’s changes are “going to make travel more expensive” and therefore lead to “a major decrease in the number of travelers.”

Now, "you have to now go by a government approved certified large group tour,” Williams said. “What this is going to do in practice is restrict the number of Americans who are going to Cuba.”

Trump also restricted transactions with the Cuban military by expanding the definition of entities benefiting from payments. The government controls many of the hotels that operate in the country, so the policy change makes it illegal for all Americans to stay at many Cuban hotels.

Peggy Goldman is the founder of Friendly Planet Travel and has been organizing tours to Cuba since 2011. She told ABC News that the restrictions relating to the military will make operating tours in the company particularly difficult.

“The majority of the tour bus fleet vehicles are owned by the tourism arm of the army, and they also own hotels,” Goldman said.

“In order to move people around, the ability to handle American visitors -- the people that are coming on these people-to-people programs -- you need buses and hotels,” she said.

Goldman also believes the cost for Americans to travel to Cuba will go up. Her company charges between $3,500 and $4,500 for a week-long trip to Cuba.

“There’s bureaucracy in every direction, especially in Cuba. It makes it almost impossible,” Goldman said. “It’s tough to do this.”

According to Airbnb, it has hosted more than 560,000 visitors in Cuba since April 2015. There are 22,000 listings in the country, the company said.

“Over the last two years, thousands of Airbnb guests from around the world have traveled to Cuba to share ideas, experiences, and cultures. Airbnb has helped individual Cuban people earn extra income and we have seen how travel can break down barriers and promote understanding,” Airbnb said in a statement.

“Travel from the U.S. to Cuba is an important way to encourage people-to-people diplomacy. While we are reviewing what this policy could mean for this type of travel, we appreciate that the policy appears to allow us to continue to support Airbnb hosts in Cuba who have welcomed travelers from around the world,” the statement said.

Airbnb also caters to non-Americans. The company said 65 percent of the people who booked Airbnb stays in Cuba were from outside the U.S. Airbnb is also available to tour groups.

“We look forward to reviewing the details of the policy and speaking with the administration and Congress about this issue in the weeks and months ahead,” the Airbnb statement said.

Passengers deplane from JetBlue flight 387, in Santa Clara, Cuba, Aug. 31, 2016. The flight was the first commercial flight between the U.S. and Cuba in more than a half century, JetBlue launched service from New York to Havana in November 2016 and the airline said today it was “committed to continuing air service between the U.S. and Cuba.”

“We plan to operate in full compliance of the new president’s new policy. We will review the policy and the specific regulations once they are available to determine any impact to our operations or to our customers,” the airline said in a statement.

Certain travel will still be allowed, including cruises from the U.S. Carnival Cruises said it “will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba since we undertook our historic first cruise to Cuba more than a year ago.”

“Our experience in Cuba this past year has been extremely positive. We look forward to the new cruises being planned for Cuba with Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line. We also have requested approval for our other brands to travel to Cuba,” the cruise line said in a statement released Thursday ahead of Trump’s official announcement.

Goldman said while she expects the changes will “make handling travelers more difficult,” her company’s tours will continue.

“The takeaway is that this type of travel won’t stop and the only thing that [Trump] will accomplish is to cause a lot of damage to the nascent Cuban entrepreneur who has invested, in some cases, life savings to create a restaurant in his house, to create other types of businesses,” Goldman said.

She added, “It’s so ironic and so paradoxical that this person who is the prince of private enterprise is squashing the aspirations of this burgeoning Cuban entrepreneur sector of society.”