Travel companies that organize trips to Cuba for American travelers have reportedly been receiving a lot of questions about President Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy and how the elimination of “people to people” tours to the island and the ban on dealings with military-controlled businesses will affect their travels.
“They say they have been interested in traveling to Cuba and they want to book right now,” Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, told the Miami Herald. His company organizes tours and plans itineraries for groups traveling to Cuba.
Trump’s new policy made a small change to Obama-era travel rules that allowed U.S. citizens and residents to travel to Cuba if their trip fell under one of 12 categories, including “people to people” educational trips by individuals. The “people to people” category for individuals was eliminated because it is “ripe for abuse” by travelers looking for beach vacations, White House officials said.
The new policy also prohibits U.S. companies from doing business with enterprises affiliated with the Cuban military, which controls a large portion of the island nation’s economy. This change might affect U.S. travelers because the Cuban military’s holdings are extensive; they include tour companies, Gaviota hotels and villas, convenience stores, gas stations, rental car agencies, marinas, discos, bars, restaurants, and shops.
The State Department has been tasked with creating a list of prohibited businesses “with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted,” the Herald reports. Trump wants the writing of the new regulations to begin by mid-July, and until an official list of rules is published, tour operators aren’t sure how their businesses might be affected.
Guidance issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control indicates that reservations and business dealings made “prior to the issuance of the forthcoming regulations” might be allowed. This exception also applies to individual travelers who planned trips under the “people to people” designation before Trump announced his new policy on June 16, as long as they booked at least one travel-related transaction like reserving accommodation or airline tickets.
Individual travel is not completely banned; it is still allowed as long as it falls under one of the 11 other categories of travel instated by the Obama administration, including participation in sports or cultural events, humanitarian trips, and visits to see relatives living on the island. Some travel companies are reportedly planning to help U.S. travelers find opportunities to visit the Cuba under one of those categories.
“We’ll have to pivot our business in Cuba a little bit and make sure we fit one of the other 11 categories,” Greg Buzulencia, CEO of ViaHero, told the Herald. ViaHero is a travel planning service that operates in Japan, Iceland, and Cuba. “Most of our clients are staying at casas particulares and eating at private local restaurants, but we’ll need to be more careful to make sure we’re avoiding military-owned businesses.”
Travel organizers and travelers looking for loopholes should be wary—Trump’s new policy requires the Secretary of the Treasury to periodically audit travel to Cuba to make sure travelers are following regulations and aren’t traveling to the island for tourism. The president expects the Treasury’s inspector general to provide a report on the implementation of audit requirements six months after the new regulations go into effect, and then an annual report thereafter.