Cuba cruises could become less flexible under new Trump policy
Gene Sloan , USA TODAY Published 12:20 p.m. ET June 16, 2017
Cruises from the USA to Cuba will be allowed to continue under President
Trump's new Cuba policy, but the trips could become more restrictive,
industry and Cuba watchers say.
Passengers on voyages to Cuba operated by U.S.-based companies such as
Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean may no longer be able to get
off ships in Cuban ports such as Havana to explore on their own, says
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a
group that supported the Obama administration's rapprochement with the
While final rules won't be written for several months, it is likely that
"only group tours will be permitted for passengers on the vessels,"
The new policy, which Trump announce today at an event in Miami, will
end individual "people-to-people" travel from the USA to Cuba, which has
been allowed for the past year under relaxed rules implemented by the
Obama administration. Travelers on "people-to-people" trips to Cuba once
again will be required to be part of a licensed group.
The new policy also could have an impact on the tours that are available
to cruisers. The policy will restrict U.S. businesses from dealing with
entities tied to the Cuban military and intelligence services, which
control a significant amount of the tourism infrastructure in the country.
Kavulich notes that many U.S.-based travel agencies and tour operators
contract for tours with Havanatur, which is a subsidiary of Cimex, which
is controlled by the FAR, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Republic
Still, the extent of the impact on cruise companies, if any, from the
restriction on dealing with such entities is unclear. A U.S. Treasury
FAQ on the topic released Friday said U.S. businesses that already have
a relationship with such entities before the new rules take effect will
be permitted to continue with the relationship. A spokesman for industry
giant Carnival Corp., a pioneer in the new wave of cruises from the USA
to Cuba, told USA TODAY the company saw no issues with its tour partner
in the country.
Many in the cruise industry don't expect the new policy to have a major
effect on cruises to Cuba, says longtime industry watcher Mike Driscoll,
editor of Cruise Week.
"The belief is ultimately Trump is pro-business, and he (is doing)
nothing here to undermine the cruise line business," Driscoll says.
"Expectations are (for) cruise business as usual, once the media
spotlight fades away."
Both Kavulich and Driscoll note the new policy's group-tour requirement
should, if anything, help the cruise industry draw more business.
Demand for Cuba cruises has been "impacted by individuals using airlines
for independent travel" to Cuba, which now will be forbidden, Kavulich says.
In a statement, Carnival Corp. said it was "pleased that the policy
changes announced by the Trump administration will allow our ships to
continue to sail to Cuba."
Carnival Corp. became the first cruise company to offer voyages from the
USA to Cuba in decades when its Fathom brand began trips from Miami in
May 2016. While Fathom has stopped sailing to the island nation,
Carnival Corp.'s much bigger Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America
Line brands are scheduled to start Cuba cruises in the coming months.
"Our experience in Cuba this past year has been extremely positive,"
Carnival said in its statement. "We look forward to the new cruises
being planned for Cuba with Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America
Line. We also have requested approval for our other brands to travel to
Carnival Corp. also owns Princess Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and
several other brands.
Also releasing a statement saying it was pleased that cruises to Cuba
could continue was Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the parent company of
Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
All three of the brands have started Cuba cruises in the last three months.
Norwegian said it would work with the Trump administration to comply
with any changes to regulations that are implemented.
"We were very concerned about any potential changes, given how popular
Cuba itineraries have proven to be with our guests, and we view this as
a win for the cruise industry, our valued guests and travel partners,"
Norwegian said in its statement, which was released after Trump spoke.
"Across our three brands, there are 70,000 guests booked to sail to Cuba
who would have been very disappointed if they were unable to experience
this spectacular destination."
Passengers on cruises to Cuba departing in the next few weeks will not
be affected by the new policy, which won't take effect until formal
rules are written over the next 90 days.
More than half a dozen cruise lines have launched Cuba voyages from the
USA over the past year. They include cruising giants such as Norwegian
and Royal Caribbean as well as smaller operators such as Oceania and
Azamara Club Cruises.
The companies have said the Cuba trips provide an opportunity for
"people-to-people" exchanges between Americans and Cubans as allowed by
U.S. rules governing visits to Cuba.
While the Obama administration loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba
in 2016, U.S. visitors still are limited in the activities they are
allowed to do in the country by the terms of the USA's five-decade-old
embargo. The embargo specifies that activities fall within one of 12
approved categories. The categories include educational pursuits such as
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