Havana, Nov. 11 (Reuters) – Cuba is opening its borders next week, signaling new opportunities for travelers tired of the pandemic and the island’s tourism industry, but for U.S. residents, it is, according to the heads of eight U.S. Tours required like never before through hoop jumping agencies.
US President Donald Trump ended cruise ship docking, reduced flights to Havana and eliminated them entirely to the surrounding provinces. His administration banned most hotels, buses, and other Cuban travel services because they were owned by the military and made general financial transactions difficult, measures that remain under President Joe Biden.
“The obstacles in the US are the most significant in our more than 22 years of doing business in Cuba,” said Michael Zuccato, director of Cuba Travel Services.
Tensions between Washington and Havana are mounting ahead of the protests planned by dissidents on the island on November 15, the day Cuba reopens its borders to international visitors. Continue reading
“The challenges seem endless at the moment. Between Trump, the pandemic and now Biden,” said Mayra Alonso, President of Marazul Tours. She said it remains interesting to walk the tightrope between US and Cuban regulations.
Zuccato said like the others, especially booking hotels and transferring funds to the Caribbean island, has become a major headache for those planning to travel to Cuba from the US.
Many tour operators had hoped that Biden would deliver on election promises and remove the barriers to visiting the Caribbean island, a popular travel destination with a rich culture, white sandy beaches and historic buildings.
“The US sanctions tightened by Trump and upheld by the Biden administration are a huge disappointment,” said Collin Laverty, head of Cuban Educational Travel.
Rising political tensions between longtime rivals ahead of next week’s planned protests won’t help, tour operators said. Continue reading
Despite escalating rhetoric, Cuba, which is dependent on tourism, continues to welcome all US citizens on vacation to the island, Transport Secretary Eduardo Rodriguez told reporters last week.
“Today the United States has four weekly flights to Havana and we’ve increased that to 147 a week, including 77 to Havana,” he said.
US airlines have announced additional flights to Havana starting next week, with a view to Cuban Americans traveling home over the holidays.
However, the Biden government has provided no indications to allow flights to the provinces.
Tom Popper, founder and former president of InsightCuba and CEO of 82 Â° West Consultants, a Cuban management consultancy, said Americans can still legally travel there despite tight travel restrictions to the neighboring island nation.
“Typically, the US market views Cuba as a binary choice: they can either travel to Cuba or not, depending on the recent actions of the incumbent US president,” he said.
Popper explained that travel to Cuba is allowed in 12 categories, including the “Support for the Cuban People” category used by most travelers – journalistic activities and visits to relatives.
He said many tour operators and travel agents plan trips that comply with US regulations.
Travel boomed during the relaxation started by former US President Barack Obama, who eased restrictions and even took his own family there on a historic visit in 2016.
The Trump administration lifted Obama’s measures and added new restrictions, and then Cuba closed its borders during much of the pandemic.
In 2018 and 2019, around 500,000 Cuban Americans visited their home country every year, according to the Cuban government.
Non-Cuban travel, however, fell from 498,538 in 2018 when the Trump administration began imposing new sanctions to just 58,147 in 2020 when the pandemic lockdown began, the government said.
Reporting by Marc Frank; additional coverage from Nelson Acosta; Editing by Dave Sherwood and Lisa Shumaker
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