In a move that’s being described by some in the travel industry as catering to southern Florida’s hard-liners in advance of the 2020 presidential elections, the Trump administration has announced harsh new Cuba sanctions and travel policy changes.
The administration is largely reversing Obama-era engagement policies toward the Caribbean island nation, while also describing its latest actions as an attempt to increase pressure on Cuba’s government in response to its support of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.
An official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Miami Herald that travel to Cuba will now be limited to family visits, restricting those visits to the island deemed as “veiled tourism.”
That could have sweeping effects on travel to the island, which has blossomed since President Obama’s administration.
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By some accounts, Trump’s new stance could mean the end of cruises that started to operate during the Obama years as part of the expansion of the types of travel allowed, the Miami Herald reported.
The re-tightened restrictions could also impact air travel, reducing the numbers of passengers headed to the island. Travel by Cuban Americans to reunite with relatives on the island will remain unchanged.
The just announced changes also include new limits on remittances made to Cubans from family members in the United States. They will be slashed from the unlimited remittances allowed by Obama to just $1,000 per person every three months.
Many of the measures were announced by National Security Advisor John Bolton during a speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables Wednesday afternoon.
The crackdown also includes the full implementation of the Helms-Burton law, which will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts against American and foreign companies doing business in Cuba over the use of property nationalized by the Cuban government following the 1959 revolution.
Aside from its goal of reversing changes put in place by the Obama administration, the new Trump policies on Cuba are being described as an attempt to show the Cuban government that “its support for Maduro will cost it.”
Travel industry reaction to the news varied from disappointment to anger, to concern about the future for both the island’s nascent tourism industry and also for companies in this country that were benefitting from open relations with Cuba.
“President Trump is doing this for one reason, and one reason only: to appease fringe hardliners in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a coalition of private companies and organizations that have been working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba.
“The hypocrisy of the Trump administration cozying up to the most brutal dictatorships in the world in Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea, but claiming to care about democracy and human rights in Cuba, is like living in a parallel universe,” Williams added. “President Trump himself tried for years to open up a Trump Hotel and golf resort in Cuba.”
U.S. travel and remittances are the lifeblood of private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba, Williams added, who called the restrictions “a cruel betrayal and a knife in the back of Cuban civil society” and the prospects for a growing independent private sector in Cuba.
“The Cuban people are already struggling under tremendous difficulties, and these actions only make it worse,” Williams said. “We need a policy that focuses on empowering the Cuban people and advancing American interests, not continuing a 60-year failed policy that only serves fringe domestic politics in South Florida.”
Williams added that the new limit on U.S. remittances to the island will be a heavy blow to Cuba’s nascent private sector (roughly one-third of the workforce) which greatly depends on remittances and U.S. travelers to keep their small businesses alive.
Andrea Holbrook, president of Florida-based Holbrook Travel, which has been providing trips to the island since 2000, expressed disappointment and concern about Trump’s latest announcement.
“We are very worried about what this means,” said Holbrook. “We are really disappointed by the attitude of our lawmakers who don’t see the tremendous economic opportunity that the opening of Cuba represents.”
Gainesville-based Holbrook Travel employs about 40 people, 30 of them locally. In 2017 the company suffered a disappointing year due in large part to all of the confusion caused by the Trump administration’s initial policy announcements tied to Cuba.
“This is certainly something we are disappointed to see happen. It means jobs, income, economic development. Here in Gainesville, Florida. Our opportunity to grow what we do in Cuba means growth in Gainesville.”
“The majority of investment in hotels is coming from Canadian and other foreign sources. This will expose those companies to foreign lawsuits,” said Holbrook. “It’s obviously an attempt to strangle foreign investment in Cuba. That’s a big concern in the long term and possibly the short term. I can imagine it being potentially titanic in terms of impact.”
Martha Honey, the executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), expressed similar dismay over the news.
“This sweeping suite of hardline policies will make life more difficult for average Cubans, including those involved in Cuba’s private tourism sector, which has burgeoned in the wake of the Obama-Raul Castro accords that opened Cuba to US travelers,” said Honey.
“Today’s announcement appears intended to strangle US citizens from visiting Cuba, except for family reasons. While the details are still not fully known, the announcement may bar US citizens from visiting one of our nearest neighbors, a country that is widely viewed as one of the safest and most peaceful in the world. Here in Havana, we are deeply saddened by this back to the future announcement based on 50 years of failed US policies.”
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WTTC Unveils Safe Travels Protocols for Airlines, Tour Operators and More
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has unveiled a new round of safety measures aimed at airlines, airports, tour operators and meeting and event organizers in an effort to propel the post-COVID-19 recovery.
WTTC previously released its Safe Travels protocols for the hospitality sector as well as outdoor retail businesses.
Developed following close consultation with WTTC members such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Emirates Group and Etihad, among others, guidance for the aviation industry includes enhanced cleaning procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) and retraining for staff, signage to limit interaction and queuing at touchpoints and the implementation of more contactless processes.
WTTC is also recommending that airlines limit movement within the cabin as much as possible by boarding passengers from the back of the plane to the front and from the window seats out to the aisle seats.
“COVID-19 is a gamechanger for the travel and tourism sector, requiring us to enhance our approach to health and safety to protect our travelers and workforce,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO at IATA, in a statement. “Aviation is the business of freedom and it is vital to enable its restart on a safe basis. IATA is delighted to lend its framework and collaborate with WTTC on the Aviation Protocols as part of its Safe Travels initiative. This is an excellent example of the industry solidarity and cooperation that will be so vital to ensuring a strong recovery for travel and tourism.”
Meanwhile, tour operators are being asked to enhance disinfection and deep cleaning practices for coaches and other vehicles as well as to roll out pre-allocated seating plans with no rotation and explore staggered timing for access to venues, hotels and restaurants, among other measures.
Convention centers and meetings and event organizers are encouraged to implement physical distancing, reduce venue capacity limits, consider pre-arrival risk assessment questionnaires for participants and create isolation units outside the venue where possible for anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“For the first time ever, the global private sector has rallied around our Safe Travels protocols which will create the consistency needed to allow a re-invigorated Travel & Tourism sector re-open for business,” stated WTTC President & CEO, Gloria Guevara. “Among the most important of these measures are those which will enable the aviation sector to take-off. Aviation’s return is critical to help repower the global economic recovery.”
“WTTC aviation protocols were created in close collaboration with ACI and IATA. We thank them and their leaders Angela Gittens and Alexandre de Juniac for their guidance, as it is vital we restore consumer confidence to get people traveling and flying safely,” she added. “The expertise from large and small tour operators contributed to define the new experience via tour operators and visiting event venues again, and were defined in the coordination of experts from this segment, through these robust global measures which have been embraced by businesses around the world.”
Visit WTTC.org to view a complete breakdown of the latest Safe Travels global protocols.
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