Following President Trump’s rollback of the Cuba détente last week, news outlets were buzzing with the announcement. The new regulations, effective as of Nov. 9, require travelers to be a part of a group licensed by the Treasury Department under 12 categories of authorized travel.
Ten out of the 12 categories of authorized travel will still be permitted for independent travelers, which many outlets said was completely prohibited. They include: family travel, professional research and meetings, religious activities, humanitarian projects and public performances.
Coverage was inconsistent, with some implying travel to the Communist island nation would be borderline impossible. “Americans seeking to visit Cuba must navigate a complicated maze of travel, commerce and financial restrictions,” the Associated Press said.
But travel agents who specialize in Cuba painted a different picture.
Supervised compliance is the key change
AC Journeys President Jose Pineda, who has been selling Cuba for 20 years, said in fact, not much has changed at all.
“The way it’s in the media, it’s like it’s something negative. The headlines say ‘Americans Can Not Go to Cuba’ instead of ‘Cuba is Within Reach.’ You can turn around the perspective on your headlines, he told TMR. “The new regulations didn’t change anything; it’s just enforcing what was already in the regulations before.”
The “new” policy is not exactly new, Pineda pointed out. It is reinstating previous rules prior to the Obama administration lifting the embargo on travel to Cuba two years ago. Though, he added, “Now there is a little more supervision in terms of compliance.”
Pineda said the negative coverage has had an impact on his business. This time last year he had 200 people booked for Cuba, and now it is only about 60.
Susan Berman, president of Berman Travel, has noticed a similar trend. “My clients are really avoiding Cuba right now, with the negative media,” she said, adding the hype has seemed to die down.
What about the blacklist?
The State Department banned Americans from 180 businesses deemed to be financially linked to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services – including 83 hotels. Most of the hotels barred are owned or operated by Compañía Habaguanex or Gaviota Tourism, two major Cuban hospitality groups.
Notable properties include the new luxury Manzana de Gomez Kempinski hotel in Havana, Paradisus Río de Oro Resort & Spa, the Royalton Cayo Santa María, the Meliá Cayo Santa María, and the Iberostar Ensenachos.
Cindy Baldwin, owner of Baldwin Travel in Naples, Florida, does not see the restricted properties being a concern for her or her clients. The most popular property she booked, the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, is still available, and smaller properties on the other side of the island she typically booked are off the list as well.
“When people go to Cuba they want to be immersed in the culture, they want to interact with Cubans and meet the artists. It’s not about luxury accommodations,” she said. Since the best way to do that is through people-to-people trips, she does not see the regulations affecting her business.
Tammy Estes, Certified Accessible Travel Advocate (CATA) of Estes Consultant of Travel, in Augusta, Maine, added, “It's kind of like telling people you don't know what you miss until it's gone. So if you haven't been there yet, people don't know what they're missing.”
Travel agents must know the laws
Ultimately, though, any legalese should not concern travelers. Going through an operator or agent with a license will ensure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed.
“Organizations like mine, we do all the legwork for our clients, and they enjoy their vacations to the upmost because we do all the legwork for them. They don’t need to know all the intricacies of the law,” Pineda said.
For travel professionals, that means continuous research and staying abreast of the listed hotels banned and the rules and regulations governing, Estes said. “The government will have to remain in touch with consultants through federal-related websites to make sure we know everything we need to know to keep our clients well within their rights and limits and for safety measures, as well. That is really important for me as a consultant.”