Saturday, June 17, 2017

Americans will still be able to travel to Cuba, but rules will be stricter

Americans will still be able to travel to Cuba, but rules will be stricter

The good news for Americans who want to travel to Cuba is they still
can, but a draft of President Donald Trump's presidential policy
directive indicates they shouldn't even think of sneaking away for a day
on a Cuban beach.

And they better keep detailed information on their travels. The draft
emphasizes that travelers must keep a full record of every transaction
they make in Cuba and hold on to it for five years.

The major change from the Obama era in Trump's Cuba policy draft: U.S.
travelers making educational people-to-people trips can no longer go to
the island on their own but must travel with groups accompanied by a
company representative.

A number of travel companies, airlines and cruise lines were reluctant
to comment on the draft details, preferring to wait until Friday when
Trump officially releases his new presidential directive on Cuba in
Miami. There are also no regulations accompanying the presidential
policy directive. Those are expected within 90 days.

But some are concerned that the new policy will dampen enthusiasm for
Cuban travel.

"Additional prohibitions and oversight on travel will only confuse
Americans and dissuade them from visiting Cuba, causing significant
economic hardship to Cuban entrepreneurs and average Cuban families, as
well as Americans working in the hospitality sector," said Collin
Laverty, president of Cuban Educational Travel, which arranges group
travel to the island.

Pedro Freyre, a Miami lawyer for cruise lines and other businesses that
have deals with Cuba, noted that it's hard to determine the scope and
precise nature of Trump's new policy until the regulations are drafted.

"The devil is in the details. It will be critically important to engage
U.S. regulators as they go forward with the drafting of the guidelines
to ensure that these are not overly burdensome to U.S. business," he said.

Because they haven't been able to see a final draft and review the
details of the new regulations, most travel companies declined to comment.

In general, the president is trying to navigate a delicate line between
cracking down on money that goes directly to the Cuban military and not
taking measures that would hurt Cuban citizens who have embraced private
enterprise, opening restaurants, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels,
and other businesses that cater to the growing number of travelers to
the island.

Visits by Cuban Americans and other U.S. travelers in 2016 reached
614,433, a 34 percent increase over 2015.

On one hand, the draft says the president wants to increase support of
the Cuban people through expansion of internet service, free media, free
enterprise, free association and lawful travel.

But on the other, it prohibits direct financial dealings with GAESA
(Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA), which controls hotel brands
such as Gaviota. Its portfolio in early 2017 included 64 hotels and
villas with more than 27,000 rooms. It even runs discotheques and
hunting preserves.

The Trump policy also allows family travel to Cuba to continue without
restrictions and places no limits on remittances, according to the draft.

That's good news for the Cuban community, said José "Pepe" Hernández,
president of the Cuban American National Foundation. "It wouldn't make
sense to put sanctions on the people," he said.

But he thinks sanctioning the Cuban military is a step in the right
direction. "One of the great problems we're seeing is that most of the
really valuable assets are now the property of the military or under
management by the military," Hernández said.

Under Obama, there were 12 categories of travel permitted, from
humanitarian and religious trips to people-to-people tours and travel
for athletic competitions. Travelers did not have to seek prior approval
from the U.S. government, although tourist travel wasn't permitted.
Those travel categories will remain under the Trump policy directive,
which also bars sun-and-beach vacations.

It's estimated that businesses run by GAESA control more than 40 percent
of the Cuban economy. GAESA's holdings range from the Mariel Special
Economic Development Zone, gas stations, convenience stores,
telecommunications companies, and a commercial airline to the Cuban
Export-Import Corp. (CIMEX), a Cuban enterprise whose holdings include
rental car agency Havanautos, free zones and container ships.

After the regulations are issued, travelers won't be able to book hotel
rooms at Gaviota hotels, which include the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski,
Havana's newest luxury hotel. Some of Cuba's best hotels are managed
under operating contracts with foreign hotel operators.

A full ban on business with military enterprises would have meant cruise
lines would not have been able to pay port fees, essentially cutting off
budding cruise travel to Cuba from the United States. But the draft
indicates that airport and seaport operations necessary for permissible
travel, cargo and trade are exempt from the prohibition on dealing with
military enterprises.

As recently as this week, Miami-based Victory Cruise Lines was approved
to sail to Cuba, making it the 10th U.S. line to get the green light for
Cuba. The luxury, all-inclusive line plans to sail to Havana, Maria la
Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba on its 202-passenger ships.

Victory President and Chief Executive Bruce Nierenberg said the cruise
line stands to win from the new regulations because all the shore
excursions it offers will follow U.S. guidelines.

"As an all-inclusive product, including all the tours, the tour guides
and arrangements on shore … we are perfectly positioned to be in full
compliance with any regulations covering how our guests use the Cuban
product," Nierenberg said.

"While there has been a significant anxiety about this announcement from
the administration and its potential impact on travel and tourism to
Cuba, the actual adjustments being called for are constructive ways to
get everyone's attention and bring Cuba and the U.S. closer together in
the long term," he said.



Source: Air, cruise travel to Cuba will continue under new Trump policy
| Miami Herald -

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