Cuba tour operators are rushing to assure Americans that
they can still legally travel to Cuba after the Trump administration released
a lengthy list of businesses with which U.S. citizens are no longer permitted
to do business.
Effective Nov. 9, Americans visiting Cuba must avoid scores
of hotels, shops, tour companies and other businesses that the U.S. State
Department has determined are owned, at least in part, by the Cuban military.
"Americans can rest assured that it's still completely
legal to visit Cuba," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational
Travel. "Commercial flights, cruise ships, Marriott hotels, Airbnb and
top-notch tour providers continue to operate business as usual. ... There
remain countless ways to legally visit the island, and there are many fully
compliant avenues for doing business."
The State Department lists as off limits a total of 84
hotels, island-wide -- 27 in Havana alone -- including the Gran Hotel Manzana
Kempinski, which opened earlier this year, billing itself as Cuba's first real
luxury hotel. The Four Points By Sheraton, the first U.S.-branded hotel to
operate in Cuba since the country's revolution ended in 1959, was not on the
Other hotels popular with Americans and not on the list
include the Hotel Saratoga, Hotel Nacional and the Iberostar Parque Central.
But several of Spain-based Iberostar's hotels outside Havana are on the list.
The list includes places that are owned or affiliated with
the military-run conglomerates that control most of the Cuban economy,
including the Gaviota tourism group, Compania Turistica Habaguanex and Gaesa,
Cuba's Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group.
However, the Kempinski and the Four Points are both owned by
Gaviota, so it was not immediately clear what qualified hotels being
blacklisted. Gaviota also owns Havana's Hotel Inglaterra, the hotel that
Marriott is slated to reopen as part of its Luxury Collection.
Marriott spokeswoman Felicia McLemore said in response to
the new regulations that the company was "reviewing the adjustments to
determine whether there would be any impacts to our existing contracts and
For its part, Iberostar said in a statement: "We
entered Cuba in response to the increasing demand for high-quality luxury hotel
services in this market. We will continue to monitor any regulatory changes
closely and make appropriate adjustments as and when required."
Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, said that the new
regulations don't actually make a significant change to current policy, adding
that the document "finally provides some clarity in the
"Potential travelers and travel agents have been
wondering what else Trump was going to do when the final restrictions were
issued," he said. "This clarity will give people peace of mind that
they can travel legally."
Popper said a close look revealed that those new
restrictions "were modest by any measure, including the elimination of
individual people-to-people travel, which only began last spring.
"The new regulations didn't go any further than the
June announcement, and despite many predicting that the prohibited list would
include most Cuban hotels, the list revealed that most hotels that Americans
use are not off limits," he said. "Bottom line is Cuba remains a
legal, safe and welcoming destination for Americans."
Flights and cruises exempt
In addition to the State Department list, the U.S. Treasury
Department issued rules that codified much of what President Trump,
in a speech on June 16 in Miami, said would be changing. The new rules include the expected return of restrictions on
individual people-to-people travel, the relaxing of which had been a hallmark
of the Obama administration's easing of Cuba travel regulations.
Americans who made travel plans prior to June 16 are exempt
from the rules. The update also specifies that "commercial engagements in
place prior" to the listing will continue to be authorized.
As per the original announcement made in June, U.S. flights
and cruises are exempt from the rules. The major
cruise lines that operate in Cuba -- Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean
International and Norwegian Cruise Line -- are studying the new rules, but for
the most part did not think their operations would be impacted.
In a statement, Norwegian said, "All of our cruises to,
and shore excursions in Cuba are in full compliance with regulations set forth
by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
and the new guidelines set forth today."
Bruce Nierenberg, CEO of Victory Cruise Lines, said the new
rules favored cruise lines.
"Yes, only certain hotels and Airbnb private residences
are approved for land stays," he said. "Yes, your tours must be
organized and supervised and have as a purpose to interact with the Cuban
population. There are limitations to shopping options, but they are not
catastrophic. More importantly, if your desire is to buy locally produced art,
crafts, cigars and rum, you will still be able to do that relatively easily."
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic
Council, said the restrictions could dampen demand for Cuba travel, which he
said reportedly began falling after Trump's June announcement.
"Given that the regulations issued today meet the
threshold of causing further anxiety, there will likely be a continued
decrease," he said.
Travel groups and executives lashed out at the regulations.
Eben Peck, ASTA's executive vice president for advocacy,
said in a statement, "Our government should not be in the business of
telling Americans where to travel or not to travel." He called on policy
makers to "enact legislation to do away with the statutory Cuba travel ban
once and for all. The American people are the best ambassadors of U.S. values
abroad and should be allowed to freely promulgate those values and travel to
any destination they wish without restriction from their own government."
Travel executives also said that the rules would hurt rather
than help the Cuban people and that they represent an unbalanced foreign
"U.S. backtracking on Cuba could not come at a worse
time," Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel said in a statement. "Restrictions
on trade and travel are hammering Cuba's private sector, which has grown
through interaction with U.S. travelers and U.S. companies, and put the U.S. on
the sidelines, politically and economically, at a time of transition in Cuba.
Laverty added, "At a time that President Trump is
meeting with communist leaders in China and Vietnam, these regulations show the
absolute hypocrisy and political pandering of the Trump administration on Cuba."
Tom Stieghorst, Robert Silk and Danny King contributed to