Earlier this year, when the Trump Administration promised new policies that would tighten restrictions on travel between the United States and Cuba, there was much speculation about what the new rules would entail and how they’d affect American travelers and the Cuban tourism industry. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs announced details of the new policy, which go into effect immediately.
The restrictions, intended to prevent the Cuba military from reaping the benefits of American tourist dollars, include a ban on U.S. travelers doing business with some 180 Cuban businesses with ties to the government. While American travelers are still free to visit Cuba under the categories of permitted travel, they’ll have to avoid a large number of notable hotels, such as the new five-star Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski in Havana; select tourism agencies; and luxury shops on the island.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control, the policy’s intention is to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military, and to “move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.”
But, as industry experts note, the outcome of these restrictions could have much different results than intended.
“It’s important to emphasize that the influx of U.S. travelers to Cuba in recent years has actually led to a boom in private enterprising,” says Charel van Dam, chief marketing officer of Cuba Travel Network, a New York-based tour provider. “The main thing this announcement does is deter U.S. travelers from going to Cuba and supporting the local community, which seems to undermine the actual ideology of why these restrictions have been set up in the first place.”
In spite of heightened restrictions, there are still many ways for U.S. citizens to legally visit Cuba. Travelers can stay in privately owned accommodations and engage with Cuban business owners in the private sector.
“For Americans who’ve already booked travel to Cuba through agencies, their trips should not be affected,” says Jennine Cohen, managing director for the Americas at tour provider GeoEx. “Those looking to book trips in the future will be limited to hotels that are not on OFAC’s list of restricted entities,” Cohen adds. “But since there will now be far fewer hotels available to American tourists, it’ll be more important than ever to book early.”