The U.S. Department of Transportation has put even more restrictions on American travel to Cuba.
The agency, through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has halted all charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport.
The DOT will also cap the number of public charter flights to Havana.
The moves come a month after President Trump banned commercial flights to Cuban destinations other than Havana.
“Today, at my request, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suspended until further notice all public charter flights between the United States and Cuban destinations other than Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Nine Cuban airports currently receiving U.S. public charter flights will be affected,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Public charter flight operators will have a 60-day wind-down period to discontinue all affected flights. Also, at my request, DOT will impose an appropriate cap on the number of permitted public charter flights to José Martí International Airport. DOT will issue an order in the near future proposing procedures for implementing the cap.”
Pompeo said the action will prevent Cuba from benefiting of further revenue which, the Secretary said, the government uses for “ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. In suspending public charter flights to these nine Cuban airports, the United States further impedes the Cuban regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers.”
The move is causing much consternation among tour operators.
In a press release Friday, tour operator Cuba Educational Travel (CET) called the policy change “another step backwards, negatively affecting Cubans on the island and their families in the U.S.”
“Canceling these flights might take cents out of Cuban government accounts, but it takes dollars out of Cuban pockets, food off the table of Cuban families and once again tries to divide the Cuban family for domestic political gains,” said CET president Collin Laverty.
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Travel Industry Lauds Passage of Paycheck Protection Program Reform Bill
The U.S. Senate passed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Flexibility Act on Wednesday, sending it to President Donald Trump’s desk for final approval.
The reform bill provides business owners with additional flexibility and more time to utilize loan money and still be forgiven under the PPP established to provide economic relief in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The travel industry has been quick to commend lawmakers. The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) is in full support having advocated for the improvements behind the scenes.
“We commend the Senate for passing the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (H.R. 7010), which would change PPP loan terms—in some cases retroactively—in a number of ways ASTA has advocated for, including five-year loan terms, reducing the requirement that 75 percent of the loan must go to payroll to get forgiveness, allowing forgivable expense over 24 weeks (as opposed to the current eight) and allowing companies to restore headcount without jeopardizing forgiveness by the end of the year (versus the current June 30),” Eben Peck, EVP Advocacy, ASTA, said in a statement.
“While the PPP will remain complex, this bill gives more flexibility to PPP recipients and increases the chances that loans can be fully forgiven,” Peck concluded.
The U.S. Travel Association also wasted no time praising the decision, calling it an “important step.”
“The PPP changes passed by both chambers are another important step in providing relief to small businesses that otherwise will not survive until the economic recovery phase,” added U.S. Travel’s Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes. “The modification to the portion of funds that can be used for non-payroll expenses is especially crucial to travel-related small businesses, which have comparatively high capital overhead but virtually zero incoming revenue because of the necessary measures in place to stem the spread of the pandemic.”
U.S. Travel still believes that there’s more work to be done to ensure a successful recovery. The organization is encouraging officials to extend PPP eligibility to non-profit and quasi-governmental entities responsible for driving local and regional economic development.
“Like the businesses they serve, the finances of these non-profits have been devastated by the standstill in travel and tourism, and the moment of recovery will be moot unless they can keep their lights on to take advantage of the return in travel demand,” Barnes stated. “We urge leaders to move urgently to enact the next phase of coronavirus response legislation, which is absolutely vital to the future of the travel and tourism industry, and to prioritize expanding eligibility to those most hard hit by this pandemic such as destination marketing organizations.”
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