When former President Obama eased travel restrictions to Cuba last year, American tourism to the Caribbean island nation flourished. But Friday, President Trump delivered a speech in Miami announcing a new policy—one that will significantly limit American travel in Cuba and impact tourism throughout the country as a whole.
While leisure travel to Cuba was never made fully legal under Obama’s policy, Trump’s newly announced policy calls for the heightening of restrictions on American travel and trade in Cuba. The directive will enforce strict limitations on U.S. citizens traveling to the island, imposing regulations that prohibit self-led, individual ventures categorized as “people-to-people travel.”
Under the new policy—the details of which the administration is set to release within the next 90 days—travelers to Cuba will be subject to scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Treasury Foreign Assets Control to ensure that their trips are within the categories of permitted travel or are part of a tour organized by a licensed provider.
“This policy will make it more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba on their own,” says Jennine Cohen, managing director for the Americas and Cuba Expert at Geographic Expeditions. Prior to Trump’s announcement, U.S. citizens were authorized to pursue ‘person-to person’ travel to Cuba, provided that they engaged in a schedule of educational exchange activities. Now, Americans will no longer be able to plan individual travel to Cuba apart from authorized tour groups. “In order to visit Cuba legally, U.S. citizens will have to travel through a company that can prove that the experiences it offers meet Office of Foreign Asset Control’s ‘people-to-people’ requirements,” Cohen says.
Additionally, the president’s new policy aims to ban financial exchange between U.S. businesses and Cuba’s military-run companies. According to a report from the Miami Herald, “Americans will be unable to spend money in state-run hotels or restaurants.” This will make finding accommodations on the island more difficult because the Cuban military owns the majority of the country’s tourism infrastructure—namely, a large sum of its luxury hotels.
The future for privately controlled accommodation, like Airbnb, is undetermined.
Yet NBC News reports that, according to senior White House officials, there will be a few notable exemptions from the administration’s heightened restrictions. Cruise lines and commercial flights will remain free to operate as is—at least until the administration outlines its revised requirements more specifically.
As for the remaining members of Cuba’s tourism industry, the future is unclear. “It remains to be seen which travel companies, cruise lines, and tour providers will be able to successfully navigate the new regulations,” Cohen of GeoEx adds, “and which will cease their operations in Cuba.”