Cuba Tours Booming Despite Trump Policies

Cuba Tours Booming Despite Trump PoliciesCuba Tours Booming Despite Trump Policies

Despite US President Donald Trump's new policies to roll back some of his predecessor's opening to Cuba, travel to the island is booming from dozens of countries, including the US.

Tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector but away from private business, according to Cuban state figures, experts and private businesspeople.

The government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy.

The number of American travelers rose to 619,000, more than six times the level reached by the administration of former president, Barack Obama. But amid the boom—an 18% increase over 2016—owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp decline, AP reported.

Cuba’s tourism boom began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would reestablish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. Overall tourism last year was up 56% over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.

Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties.

Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses.

The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.

Trump’s new policy reimposed the requirement for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.

While Trump’s new rules did not take effect until November, their announcement in June led to an almost immediate slackening in business from individual Americans, many Cuban entrepreneurs say. The situation was worsened by Hurricane Irma striking Cuba’s northern coast in September and by a Cuban government freeze on new licenses for businesses, including restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts.

Trump’s policy changes did not touch flights or cruise ships. More than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited Cuba in 2017, compared with 184,000 in the previous year.


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