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Roadblocks remain for U.S. travel to Cuba

Cuba’s sun, sand and the refreshing ocean will be a draw for many tourists when the country re-opens its borders next week. But for U.S. citizens – getting there means jumping through hoops like never before. Michael Zuccato is the head of Cuba Travel Services: ”It’s never been this difficult in the last 22 years of our business.” The problems, say tour operators, are lingering Trump-era restrictions. The Trump White House ended cruise ship dockings, reduced flights to Havana and declared most hotels, bus and other Cuban tour services off limits because they were owned by the military… Measures that remain in place even under President Joe Biden. And – Cuban business owners, like hostel owner Julia De La Rosa, are eager for change: ”The North American market could help us in the short term to bounce back fast. Regrettably, if there are difficulties with flights, tickets are very expensive and hard to get, it’s going to be hard for them to book a trip and come.” Many tour operators had hoped that Biden would make good on campaign promises… and reduce hurdles to visiting the Caribbean island. They’d like to revisit the days when travel boomed during the detente begun by former U.S. President Barack Obama who loosened restrictions and even took his own family there during an historic visit in 2016.Havana restaurant owner, Carlos Cristobal Marquez: ”President Barack Obama visited this restaurant in 2016 and for us it meant an important push.” But after Trump reversed Obama’s measures, travel by non-Cuban Americans plunged. And President of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, John Kavulich, worries there are no political incentives for the White House to reverse course. “Any time you expand who can go to Cuba, how they can go to Cuba, it’s going to be about spending money in Cuba, and that’s something that’s going to get a tremendous amount of political blowback.” There is one hopeful change on the horizon – U.S. airlines have announced more flights to Havana beginning next week, with an eye toward Cuban-Americans traveling home over the holidays.


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