What will be the fate of U.S- Cuba tourism as Raul Castro steps down?

 Thursday, April 19, 2018 



cubaA dramatic change in America’s ability to travel to Cuba was seen during Raul Castro’s time, it opened dramatically during Obama’s tenure and a partial reduction under Donald Trump. Raul Castro has stepped down from his post today.



In December 2014, before the launch of détente with President Obama American families without family ties could travel to Cuba only on the pretext of expensive guided tours which had activities with the Cuban principle. It avoided activities to be considered a s tourism and was illegal under the U.S law.



There were special licenses from the U.S Treasury Department for “People-to-people” tour companies. This was regularly audited and faced fines or loss of licenses if they allowed travellers to engage in tourism.



The U.S travellers were under constant supervision by the government as the tour companies in Cuba needed to contract guides, tour buses and hotel rooms from the Cuban government. This led to the activities favouring the Cuba government  on domestic and international issues.




But Obama allowed the Americans to travel to Cuba on individual ‘people-to-people’ trip, making it indistinguishable from travel to any other country in the world by eliminating the travel requirement.



It was a legal requirement to maintain the logs of ‘people-to-people’ schedules by the travellers. However, the Obama administration ensured that it would not enforce the requirement.



After more than half a century there were commercial flights between the U.S and Cuba resumed and  the online lodging booker Airbnb was allowed. So during Obama’s tenure the U.S travel to Cuba almost tripled by the time Obama left office.   This pumped  hundreds of millions of dollars into independent restaurants driving the Cuba’s private sector growth.


But Trump re-imposed the requirement with heavily regulated tour groups and that “people –to-people”  travellers could only come to Cuba.


But many Cubans saw the reduction in the number of American travellers whose business granted private Cuban businesses to flourish post the start of détente.



Most Americans financial transactions with the military-linked conglomerate was banned due to the policy. A majority of the American travellers ignore the ban or are unaware of it.



The tour groups found several ways of doing business with the Cuban government but also respecting the letter of regulation.



For the purpose of supporting the Cuban people the individual American traveler can still legally travel which will strengthen democracy and civil society and is indistinguishable from the people-to-people trips.



In 2017 the Cuban government figures revealed a record year for tourism and it had 4.7 million visitors bringing more than $3 billion into the island that was struggling. Among these mostly were Canadians, Cuban –Americans and Europeans facing no restrictions but the number of American travellers without family ties topped 600,000.


This was more than six times the pre-Obama level but amid the boom it saw an 18 percent overall increase over 2016.



A sharp drop was reported among owners of private restaurants. After Trump’s regulation,  cruise ship passengers did not have much restrictions and they spent most of their time in Cuba in activities organized by the Cuban government.



This implied that Trump’s regulations steered money in the Cuban government which was away from private business, this was the opposite of the intended effect.

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