Back in June, the Trump administration stated they would be rolling back much of the Obama administration normalization with the communist-ruled island. Yesterday, the new rules were released and they will take effect today.
- Enforcement of the ban on tourist travel
- Up until today there is little to no enforcement of the 12 allowed categories for Cuban travel
- Americans planning to visit Cuba will now have to travel with organized tour groups operated by U.S. companies
- 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)
- Travelers will also have to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring group.
- Limits on commerce with GAESA, the Cuban military’s business and commerce branch
- The regulations include a list of companies and other Cuban-controlled entities with which U.S. citizens cannot engage with financially
- New US hotels won’t be allowed to be partially owned by the Cuban government
- This new rule will only impact new agreements with American companies
The good news is that any travel booked before November 9, 2017, will be exempt from the new rules. The bad news is going forward, most Americans planning to visit Cuba will have to travel with organized tour groups operated by U.S. companies. Travelers will also have to be accompanied by a representative of the sponsoring group. This is similar to how Cuban travel worked for Americans prior to the Obama era changes.
There will be a list of approved hotels released and it sounds like Airbnb will be one of the better options for booking lodging in Cuba as the new rules promote private Cuban owned businesses.
While tourist travel has always been banned by the US Embargo on Cuba, for the last two years it was basically a free-for-all and US Customs did not appear to 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. It looks like the new rules quash any chance of easy travel to Cuba. The best option now is to fly to Cuba through a neighboring country such as Mexico. It is important to note the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning last month due to “sonic attacks” on U.S. Embassy personnel.
The new rules will also adversely impact US airlines. Several US airlines picked up new routes to Cuba last year, and we’ve already seen airlines reducing their routes to Cuba (due to less travel than anticipated). I would anticipate significant cuts on US routes to Cuba in the next few months.
America should be focused on supporting Cuba’s entrepreneurs and the private sector by encouraging more Americans to travel to Cuba rather than adding burdensome restrictions on American travel. When I visited Havana, I stayed at an Airbnb which was owned by locals, and I only ate at privately owned restaurants. These Cuban entrepreneurs will sadly be the ones who will be most impacted by the new rules.