Will doors close on travel to Cuba?
By Christopher Muther GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 07, 2016
As US airlines ramp up the number of daily flights to Cuba and consumer
demand to visit the once off-limits island balloons, some tourists and
travel industry insiders fear that the next administration in the White
House could slam the door on the newly opened Cuban travel market.
Two years ago, President Obama began the process of lifting an embargo
against Cuba that had been in place for more than half a century.
Airlines, cruise ships, and hotels were quick to respond to consumer
demand. But because the president made those changes through executive
order, they can easily be reversed when President-elect Donald Trump
takes office in January.
"What effect would a return to the closing of Cuba have on tourism? It's
much more complicated than simply reversing the executive orders," said
Erika Richter director of communications for the American Society of
Travel Agents. "The changes under the Obama administration have led to
new business licensing, commercial flights, along with the corresponding
regulatory improvements led by various government agencies. The
repercussions are simply much bigger than preventing tourism."
Trump has expressed discontent with Obama's handling of Cuba, but has
yet to outline specific changes, if any, that may occur to the outgoing
president's policies. It's the ambiguity that's most troubling to those
in the industry.
"I think there's just no way to read these tea leaves," said Jonathan
Bedard, owner of Cubatodo.com, an online travel agency in Lynn
specializing in trips to Cuba. "That's the beauty of Trump. You can read
into it whatever you want, but honestly, I don't think we have a good
inkling. I'm an optimist, I'm an entrepreneur, and I like to see the
good in everything. For the moment, I'm not overly worried about it."
Although he is not immediately concerned, some of his customers are.
When Trump Tweets lines such as "I will terminate the deal," Bedard
hears from travelers the following day who are worried about the status
of their trips. There is also concern that the death of Fidel Castro may
change relations between the two countries.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the
president-elect hasn't yet decided whether he will roll back Obama's
executive order on Cuban relations.
"I'd say 'wait-and-see' is true of much of the travel industry, as well
as travelers," said Gabe Saglie, editor of the site Travelzoo. "On the
other hand, even a slim potential for change is enough to have another
batch of intrigued travelers making the decision to go sooner rather
Paul Porter and his wife had planned to go to Havana next winter. But
after the election, Porter, a retired electrician, said the couple
changed course and will now go to Cuba this summer.
"It's not ideal, but it's better than missing out completely," Porter
said. "We're not willing to chance it."
The uncertainty of future relations between the US and Cuba has done
little to curtail interest in the country. Search volume for flights to
Cuba on the smartphone app Hopper have increased nearly 100 percent
since the start of 2016. Meanwhile, the cost of a flight to Cuba has
dropped from an average of $800 at the beginning of 2016 to $250 last week.
Currently Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit,
and United are allowed to fly directly to Cuba. Carnival Corp. started
cruising to Cuba in July, and several other cruise companies are waiting
for permission to dock.
While companies make investments and consumers clamor to get to Cuba,
the large contingent of Republicans who traditionally opposed any of
Obama's initiatives has said it is also against thawing relations with Cuba.
Another sign that relations between the US and Cuba may roll back is
Trump's appointment of Mauricio Claver-Carone. He is one of the most
outspoken critics of Obama's diplomatic approach toward Cuba.
Claver-Carone's organization, Cuba Democracy Advocates, strongly opposes
lifting the embargo.
Optimistic travel industry insiders, however, maintain that as a
businessman and a hotelier, Trump will not interfere with US companies
expanding into the Cuba tourism market.
"A lot of companies have made significant investments in Cuba," said
Jason Clampet, cofounder of the travel website Skift. "It's all been
headed in a direction that works for these companies. At this point, the
wild card is Trump."
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Will doors close on travel to Cuba? - The Boston Globe -