The wave of tourism brought by the 700 Americans who arrived in Havana by sea in May 2016 is showing no signs of abating more than one year later, even with the new restrictions placed on American travelers to the island by President Donald Trump.
Adonia’s historic voyage from Port Miami to Cuba was the first of its kind in almost 40 years. It marked a big step in the normalization process between Cold War enemies that was started by former President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro on December 17, 2014. The embargo imposed by Congress almost 60 years ago is still in place, but the Obama administration relaxed the rules to allow Americans to visit the island if the trip falls under one of 12 categories of travel.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, those categories 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 a category, but the Obama administration allowed individual “people to people” tours under the “educational activities” category. Trump eliminated individual trips under that category because it was “ripe for abuse” by travelers looking for a beach vacation, but “people to people” tours are still allowed for certified groups.
Trump also banned U.S. companies from doing business with enterprises owned by the Cuban military, which controls a large percentage of the island nation’s economy. Together with the elimination of individual trips, these new restrictions may greatly affect the already struggling airline and hotel industry.
Hotels have lowered their inflated prices and several airlines have been forced to reduce or cancel flights to the island all together because of limited demand. Cruise ships are insulated from the changes because of they bring their own accommodations and coordinate tours, making it easier for U.S. travelers to comply with the changing restrictions for travel to the island. This has encouraged cruise liners to increase voyages to the island to meet the growing demand.
Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) announced in April that it plans to expand its voyages to Cuba with 33 sailings in 2018 and will send a second vessel to the island as of May 2018. Carnival Corp will continue to offer cruises to Cuba out of Port Tampa Bay with certified group tours to comply with the new regulations, and Royal Caribbean International has a year-long program to Cuba that includes 58 voyages throughout 2018 with overnight stays in Havana. Holland America also has its hand in the pie after it recently received approval for sailings Cuba, becoming the ninth U.S.-based cruise operator to receive permission to sail to the island.
The full effect of the new regulations won’t be known until the official list of rules is published—Trump wants the the writing of the new regulations to begin this month—but it’s clear that the first Cuba tourism boom is over. The next wave will carry ships across the Atlantic.