Want to travel to Cuba as a tourist? Unfortunately, Congress still says no…
Cuba is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. International travel to Cuba is skyrocketing, with the number of tourists visiting the island reaching an all-time high of nearly 5 million in 2018. This “boom” coincides with the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana and an easing of U.S. restrictions on travel by Americans to the island.
But unfortunately, American tourists are still prohibited from enjoying all that Cuba’s tourism sector has to offer. However, the tourism opportunities in Cuba go far beyond tourist travel. Cuba will need to make significant investments in order to develop the infrastructure needed to keep up with the growing number of international travelers, creating tremendous opportunities for U.S. companies in the tourism and manufacturing sectors.
It’s time for Congress to lift the travel ban on Cuba to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba and ensure U.S. companies aren’t stuck on the sidelines as the island develops one of its most lucrative industries.
Traveling to Cuba
U.S. Travel Ban
As an American, you are allowed to travel to Cuba under those 12 categories that have been carved out by executive order. In 2018, 630,000 Americans traveled to Cuba, more than quadruple the number during the first year of restored diplomatic relations. The 12 categories of authorized travel include:
1. Family visits
2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research and professional meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
12. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
The U.S. government should not be in the business of policing Americans' vacations.
U.S. Travel Industry
Already, American travel companies are entering Cuba. Starwood opened the first American hotel in Cuba in nearly 60 years; Carnival Cruise Lines has begun sailing to the island; commercial airlines have resumed service; and Airbnb has multiplied its listings from 1,000 in 2015 to over 24,000 today.
If Congress lifts the embargo, the opportunities for American businesses in the tourism sector will be tremendous. As tourism continues to grow rapidly in Cuba, the country will need to upgrade and build out its hospitality infrastructure. American companies should be able to compete with foreign companies that are already gaining a foothold in this lucrative market.
commercial air service to cuba
In December of 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that the U.S. would begin regularly scheduled commercial air service to Cuba. Last summer, DOT awarded flight routes for both non-Havana and Havana routes. On Aug. 31, 2016, JetBlue became the first U.S. passenger airline to complete a commercial flight to Cuba in over five decades. On November 28, American Airlines flew the first U.S. commercial passenger flight to Havana. Currently, 5 U.S. airlines offer service to 10 Cuban cities:
Airlines that offer service to Cuba: American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United.
Tourism and Cuba's Private Sector
Cuba’s private sector is the fastest growing industry in Cuba’s economy. It is estimated that almost a third of Cuba’s workforce is involved in private sector activities. This boom in private sector employment is fueled by increased tourism to the island.
There are over 2,000 paladares (privately-owned restaurants), more than 28,000 casas particulares (private homestays), a growing number of taxi drivers, and thousands more private sector employees. Many of these cuentapropistas (self-employed workers) would benefit tremendously if we lift the tourism travel ban on Cuba.
April 2, 2015:
Airbnb launches in Cuba with 1,000 listings. The company has since expanded to 24,000 listings and continues to empower Cuba’s private sector.
February 16, 2016:
The U.S. and Cuba sign an agreement that will allow for up to 110 daily scheduled commercial flights between the two countries.
May 1, 2016:
After Cuba changes law allowing Cuban Americans to return to the island by boat, Carnival Cruise Lines sets sail from Miami to Havana.
June 29, 2016:
Starwood opens first American hotel in nearly six decades after signing three agreements with Cuban counterparts.
Engage Cuba garners support for the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. A majority of Senators have cosponsored the legislation.
Administration Regulatory Changes
December 17, 2014:
President Obama announces that his administration will chart a new course with Cuba and takes executive action to allow travel to Cuba if it falls under one of 12 categories.
March 16, 2016:
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced that Americans can plan their own “people-to-people” trips to Cuba; as opposed to the previous rule of having to go through issued tour operators.