Interest in Cuba travel expected to drop amidst uncertainty

Posted: 12-Oct-17 10:09

After the US State Department issued a travel warning due to alleged sonic attacks to US embassy employees, travel experts have declared they foresee a decline in Cuba travel. The new hostile climate, along with the devastation brought by Hurricane Irma, has hurt interest in visiting the island.

Interest in Cuba travel expected to drop amidst uncertainty

When diplomatic bonds were re-established between Cuba and the US in 2014 under the Obama administration, it offered ray of hope to the reconciliation of both nations and the possibility of travel to the island after over 50 years of hostility. This new situation brought thousands of Americans to the island through 12 legal categories of travel and also increased the popularity of Cuba as a destination on an international level.

Nevertheless, the situation changed with the election of Donald Trump. The President had already announced back in late May that he planned to undo Obama’s decision to ease travel restrictions to Cuba. Just last week, the hostility has grown further as the State Department issued a new travel warning for the destination, citing alleged attacks on employees at the U.S. embassy in Havana. At present time, officials are ordering all nonessential embassy staff members out of the country.

Moreover, the unfortunate natural hazard of Hurricane Irma which recently ravaged part of the island, including its beautiful keys, has damaged infrastructure and travellers’ desire to make imminent travel plans to Cuba. In reference to the current situation, Caribbean specialist Mitch Toren of Trip Guy stated:

“The President's threats to undo Obama's eased travel restrictions, perceived hurricane damage, and the most recent diplomatic issues are all threatening to limit U.S. consumer interest in visiting. Too much uncertainty. That said, some resorts like Royalton Hicacos have done a great job of promoting that that they are already back to business after the hurricanes.”

In spite of all the uncertainty generated by the current hostile situation, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is informing of all of its members of the latest warning, while also noting that there are currently zero reports of tourists being harmed. Eben Peck, senior vice president of government and public affairs for ASTA declared:

“We are telling agents that yes, there is a State Department warning, but there other material facts like private citizens have not been affected and it reportedly took place in one hotel, so that should alleviate cruise fears. And we haven’t heard any issue from any of our tourism partners in Cuba.”

Although ASTA does not yet count with any official statistics to provide, the agency expects the latest warning, along with Trump's announcement and the recent hurricanes, to cause a dip in Cuba arrivals from the US. However, these factors may not be the only ones influencing the decrease of interest. Given the fact most US travellers have to follow a people-to-people programme, visitors don’t have full control over their itinerary. Matthew Alicz of Legacy Travel added that infrastructure in the island is still not up to par with other Caribbean destinations which are more tourism-ready.

Regardless of experts’ current predictions, several tours operators, such as Access Trips and Norwegian Cruise Line, immediately stated they would still be offering scheduled people-to-people tours. Representatives of both agencies declared that tourists’ safety is not in danger and that the island has much to offer in terms of history, culture and entertainment. Tamar Lowell, CEO of Access Trips, said in a written release:

“The health and safety of our guests is our highest priority. Given that the issues raised by the State Department have not affected any U.S. travellers going to Cuba, we believe it remains a safe destination and will continue to offer tours there until that assessment changes.” 

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