At a speech in Miami today, President Trump introduced new Cuban travel restrictions. Although Trump stated that he was “cancelling” Obama's agreement with Cuba, the new restrictions are only minor changes, but they will no doubt reduce the amount of US travel to Cuba.
What will be changing (in 60-90 days)
- Enforcement of the ban on tourist travel
- Currently there is little to no enforcement of the 12 allowed categories for Cuban travel
- Travel to Cuba will be subject to a Treasury Department audit (for up to 5 years)
- You will be required to keep records of all transactions made in Cuba
- Educational people-to-people trips can no longer be made solo (must be in a group)
- Limits on commerce with GAESA, the Cuban military's business and commerce branch
- The Four Points Sheraton Havana (Marriott) is partially owned by GAESA (Cuban government)
- New US hotels won't be allowed to be partially owned by the Cuban government
- This new rule will only impact future agreements with American companies
Tourist travel has always been banned by the US Embargo on Cuba, but in the last couple years, it was basically a free-for-all and US Customs did not care why you traveled to Cuba. I visited Cuba in 2015, and I ran into several US tourists who were in Havana for no other reason than to check out the city and nearby beaches.
While Trump talks about enforcing the new rules immediately, that is not how our government works. It will take awhile for the US government to draft new restrictions and provide guidance to US Federal agencies. If you are planning to travel to Cuba, I think you'll be fine for the next 30-45 days. Outside of that, I would recommend contacting your airline to see if they are offering waivers for free cancellations.
The new rules will also adversely impact US airlines. Several US airlines picked up new routes to several Cuban cities last year, and we've already seen airlines reducing their routes to Cuba (due to less travel than anticipated). I imagine there will be significantly less air travel to Cuba after the new rules are implemented.
The new rules will confuse most US tourists, which will result in less American travel to Cuba. While I understand the Trump administration's goal of limiting funds going to the Cuban government, the new regulations will no doubt impact the Cuban people. When I visited Havana, I stayed at an Airbnb which was owned by a locals, and I only ate at privately owned restaurants. These Cuban entrepreneurs will be seeing less tourists dollars with the new rules.