Cuba Tourism Operators Band Together as U.S. Travel Restrictions Return
Confusion about travel to Cuba has increased this year after the rollback of Obama-era changes that allowed freer movement between the U.S. and the Communist island nation. American Tour Operators in Cuba, a new association, will work to clarify what is still permitted under the new rules.
The biggest wildcard in travel these days—even more than the recent uncertainty created by the Trump administration’s executive actions—might be the legal status of Cuba as a travel destination.
During his final years in office, President Obama took steps to thaw the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and ease restrictions on travel to the island nation. The Trump administration has begun to roll back those changes, and, in September, the restrictions are expected to tighten further.
In this shifting climate, U.S. tour operators that manage trips to Cuba have banded together to clarify the rules and speak with a united voice. The new group, American Tour Operators in Cuba, has more than 30 members hoping to clear the air around the issue.
“We can work with the new rules with minimal changes, but a pall has been cast over the business and that has me worried going forward,” ATOC member Steven Cox, president of International Expeditions, told Reuters. “Many American travelers are not so well informed and believe that travel to Cuba is being shut off, and that just isn’t true.”
In the first six months of 2017, about 300,000 Americans traveled to Cuba, most in organized groups. Most of those trips can continue in their current form: Trips organized by cruise lines are allowed under the updated rules. But people-to-people travel exchanges, a type of educational trip, will not be, at least not outside of a group. Solo trips to the island are prohibited.
In addition to clarifying what travel is and is not allowed under the new rules, ATOC will address concerns that companies like airlines or banks will limit services in Cuba.
“We need to share information and speak as a united voice on issues that are important to us,” ATOC founder Michael Sykes, of Cuba Cultural Travel, told Reuters.