In the wake of new restrictions on travel to Cuba from the Trump administration, American travel seems headed in two different directions. A new cruise from Tampa to Cuba took off on Thursday, while Southwest Airlines announced that it would discontinue two of its three routes to Cuba.
The Carnival Paradise, which is headed for Havana, Cuba for a four-day excursion, will be the last individual certified tour available because of the new travel restrictions. Any cruises from now on will need to be certified group tours, which will ensure that Americans visiting Cuba are doing so for educational purposes and not for regular tourism.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, there are now 11 categories of authorized travel for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba. These are “family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.” Tourism is not on the list, but a certified group tour can fall under the “educational activities” category.
Carnival will continue to offer cruises to Cuba under certified group tours out of Tampa and Port Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines will discontinue flights to Santa Clara and Varadero, Cuba, on September 4th. The airline will only keep its Havana flight route. Southwest routes to Cuba leave from both Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Florida. Any customers who have purchased tickets on the discontinued routes for travel after September 4th are eligible for refunds.
“Our decision to discontinue the other Cuba flights comes after an in-depth analysis of our performance over several months which confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens,” said Steve Goldberg, the Senior Vice President of Ground Operations, about the changes.
Southwest is just one of many U.S. airlines that added flights after the Obama administration lifted travel restrictions to Cuba last year. A slew of airlines were quick to add flight routes to the island, hoping tourists would flock there. However, limited demand and the threat of renewed travel restrictions dampened some of the enthusiasm, and many airlines cut back their service to Cuba earlier this year.
Many suspected that the Trump Administration would roll back some of the changes brought about by the Obama administration, including the ability of U.S. citizens to visit Cuba as tourists. This is in no small part because Governor Rick Scott of Florida, who supported Donald Trump through his tumultuous 2016 election, wanted the changes undone. However, the new travel restrictions do not bar U.S. citizens from entering Cuba, and the many travel routes that remain, both on the ocean and in the air, ensure that Americans will continue to go to Cuba.