Tomorrow Donald Trump Will (Mostly) Ban Tourist Travel to Cuba

President Trump on Friday will speak at Manuel Artime Theater in Miami — named for the leader of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba — and announce a rollback of President Obama’s liberalization of relations with the island nation.

Politico reports that the policy outlined will be

clearly banning tourist travel to the island, restating the importance of the 56-year-old trade embargo with the island and instituting a broad prohibition on financial transactions with companies significantly controlled by the Communist government’s military


Fishing on the Malecón in Havana

While financial transactions — perhaps such as US management of hotels largely owned by the government — will be banned, that won’t happen right away.

The President’s “directive instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to consult with the Commerce Department to promulgate new rules 90 days” from tomorrow’s announcement. The Four Points by Sheraton Havana is owned by Gaviota, which is the tourism arm of the Cuban military’s business entity and any deal between Marriott (which owns Starwood) and Gaviota is expected to be banned.


Sign in support of the 1960s revolution

Tourist travel will face significant new hurdles. Tourism is still largely banned, but the ban has been completely overlooked under Obama administration policy. There are certain categories of travel which are permitted with most tourists traveling under “people to people exchange,” a type of educational visit.

The administration will:

  • require a full-time schedule of activities which will “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities” and also require that “the travel must result in a meaningful interaction” with Cuban people.

  • require travelers to keep detailed records of every financial transaction in Cuba for 5 years

  • direct the Department of the Treasure to audit Cuba travel to ensure people follow rules strictly.

Anyone traveling to Cuba will not be permitted to engage in financial transactions with businesses controlled by the Cuban military. Many hotels will thus be off limits, and some restaurants too. (This is good news in a way for Airbnb.)


Typical breakfast at a casa particular

Americans will still be able to create schedules which comply with these rules, taking great care to avoid expenditures with institutions linked to the government. But the record keeping and audit threats will scare away many who might have considered trying.

Airlines are going to be faced with additional cutbacks in their Cuba schedule. They have already been losing large amounts of money flying to Cuba as it is and as seemed obvious from the start that they would with largely leisure travel originating in the U.S. and very little demand originating in Cuba along with limited tourism infrastructure in the country. However carriers wanted to establish their foothold using limited flight authorities and prevent competitors from doing the same. This new policy will mean even lighter loads and weaker yields.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just as more and more cruise lines announce port stops in Cuba they may have to cease? Looks like a big cluster coming for those with already booked and paid for cruises.

  2. The way I read this: There’s a 90 day grace period, so planned trips falling in this range should be fine.

    As a Trump voter, I’m not happy with this. It’s not so much that I’m against the embargo, but rather that we have been following this policy for over 40 years and it’s been a complete failure. The ONLY success in regards to legit Communist countries, was Nixon’s visit to China, and them pretty much changing their economy completely to a market based one. (Albeit with lots of controls) It just seems silly to revert back to a policy, that we know as an absolute fact – Don’t work.

  3. @Mangar: I’m not a Trump voter but I think your logic is dead on. It’s unclear to me what motivates this, as I would think a guy with hotels around the world would see the underlying subversive value of encouraging capitalism through tourism.

  4. More Trump stupidity. We do business with China, Russia, Saudia Arabia and tons of other countries who have even worse human rights abuses than Cuba. At least the Cubans get free health care and free education. The irony is Trump has been wanting to open hotels in Cuba for years and even sent his employees there illegally. It’s OK for him but not OK for anyone else. Such hypocrisy.

  5. Love people bashing Trump when this was pushed by Marco Rubio. You do realize that lifting the embargo was hugely unpopular with older Cubans who don’t want to see the Castro regime benefiting while still in power. Or how the regime stole land, money and peoples lives.

    I wonder how many anti-Trumper’s bash Trump for this, while cheering sanctions on Russia and North Korea. Or how people demonize Russia, while ignoring China, which is 1) actually communist, 2) has worse human rights and 3) has provenly hacked the US and US companies.

    Traveling to Cuba is not banned. You just are restricted from spending money on things that directly benefit the Cuban regime (hotels, certain tours, etc).

    It’s cool though. Hyperbolic anti-trump rhetoric. Keep on being blind.

  6. Go read Politico. It is clear what motivated him for this. Republicans in FL pushed this.

    Seriously, does anyone on this site read? Guess what, Rubio, Jeb, Cruz, all would have done this. Obama pissed off tons of influential FL voters by opening relations.

    “At least the Cubans get free health care and free education.”

    You do realize nothing is free. Their healthcare and education is paid for by 1) oppressive taxes and 2) a repressive regime. The Cuban people are trapped in a time warp and live a seriously substandard lifestyle.

    It is sad that a site dedicated to travel, which you’d think would open peoples mind, really just highlights how people can travel the world and still not see what is 6 inches in front of their face.

  7. As a partial Trump supporter I’m really mad about this. If you visited recently you could tell how the simple presence of Americans was starting to change the atmosphere there. Open relations are the best policy.
    Most people travel under ” support for the Cuban people” btw.

    Any idea if they’ll backdate audits for before this ban goes into effect?

  8. This is a frustration for the people in miami tha they do sh…… in 60 years , just put money in their banks , they dont want any change in cuba

  9. we should invade cuba and overthrow blood sucking commies, not visit for leisure.
    thank God for this awesome President.

  10. @Henry I’m rather pleased with Trump so far. Would happily vote for again.

    However, that don’t mean I have to agree with/support EVERY one of his policies. It’s rare that anybody agrees with any person 100% of the time. This one is disappointing, solely because we KNOW it don’t work. We have years of history of it…. Not working. Although, if he overturned Obama’s removal of the “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” refugee policy – That I’d support.

  11. Strange how many of these travel blogs fill up with trump apologists, champing at the bit to defend any action, or redirect blame.

    He’s the president. He’s making the decision. It is, without excuse or qualification, his fault. His hand is not being forced.
    I understand that his motivation is a small, but influential group of people in one state. But he’s pandering to that special interest group.

    Comparisons to Russia or China only serve the very point of why it’s stupid. As an American, you can travel freely, without US gov restrictions on your itineraries, or where you eat lunch, or requirement to document all transactions, to countries like Iran, Burma, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Venezuela or Zimbabwe. Each has serious political disagreements with the US, and in some cases no diplomatic relations, and each has serious human rights violations. There is no real effort to stop tourism to any of these countries.

    It’s purely political pandering here, and it’s unfortunate. The rest of the world mocks us for stupid things like this.

  12. @Mark: Does it hurt when you think?

    Yes, Cubans do get free medical care. They do have first-rate doctors … that earn approximately $127 per month, live in small apartments, are rationed in everything from food to utilities — the same as bus drivers. Maybe for you, whose only real skill is how to flip a burger, this sounds like Utopia.

    There is also the pesky little issue of extraditions. Obama wanted to pretty much normalize relations with Cuba, yet Cuba was still not going to allow extradition of American criminals thriving in Cuba, at least two of which murdered police officers. There are scores of Cuban criminals in the US who cannot be deported back to Cuba, which refuses them.

    Not known in your trailer park for your critical thinking skills, are you, Mark?

  13. @J.C. Actually it only hurts when I read stupid comments like yours. If you really want to benefit the Cuban people we should be encouraging more travel by Americans and more contact with Americans. The embargo has been proven to be ineffective and it’s only there to pander to Cubans in South Florida who were given special immigration rights when they arrived that are not afforded to people in other countries. Your same comments could be said about China 15-20 years ago and now they have a thriving middle class and are building high speed rail throughout their entire country. We have an inconsistent policy when it comes to human rights. If they have oil they tend to get a free pass. BTW, Obama did not “normalize” relations with Cuba. I hardly call his actions normalization. If they were normal all Americans could travel there at any time and spend money as they wish. Please get your facts right.

  14. @Mark: Hop a bus. Go outside your trailer park for once.

    You have never been to Cuba. Do you have any idea what contact tourists have with Cubans? Practically none at all. It’s difficult dumbing this down for you, but here goes … the only person-to-person contact you have is with those specially allowed to work in the foreign tourism sector. Your activities are monitored. Ordinarily Cubans are monitored to prohibit contact with tourists. You cannot just waltz into a Cuban supermarket in a typical Cuban neighborhood the same as you do with your Walmart. Those very few ordinary Cubans who dare initiate contact with you on the sparsely populated streets are promptly detained by security forces.

    So tell us, Einstein, precisely what contact with Americans are you talking about?

    Instead of trolling forums with your drivel, do something productive, Mark, like installing running water in your double-wide.

  15. @J.C. Your Trump strategy of the best defense is a good offense isn’t working very well. I would be happy to compare tax returns with you at any time. We can even compare our double wides.

    You don’t think people are monitored in Russia, Vietnam or China? Maybe you need to travel more.

    We also export over 200 Million dollars worth of goods to Cuba while importing nothing which means American jobs especially in agriculture.

    Trump won’t be around for long anyway so most of his policies aren’t going to last. When the Vice President has to hire a personal attorney to deal with the Russia probe that’s pretty telling.

    Vice President Mike Pence has hired his own lawyer to represent him in the special counsel’s Russia investigation. The lawyer, Richard Cullen, is a former Virginia attorney general and a former US attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.

  16. @Mark: Ok, so in addition to never having been to Cuba, we now know you have never been to China or Vietnam either. They need to upgrade that library in your trailer park with books and the occasional modern video about life in China, Vietnam and, of course, Cuba. At least then your lies would be ever-so-slightly more credible.

    Tax returns? They finally weaned you off that EBT card, Mark? Now that Seattle mandates $15 an hour for burger flippers, you’re at the top of the heap, right? I bet your parole officer is proud of you.

    You should return that GED, Mark. You must have cheated on that civics exam. Hiring a lawyer is not evidence of guilt. Regardless, I couldn’t care less about the president or vice president’s legal issues. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I only agree that normalizing relations with Cuba only benefits Cuba and until there is a change in their behavior we should let them wallow a bit longer in poverty. We have very little to lose.

    I realize this isn’t the answer you were hoping for. We understand that shatters your dreams of plodding off to Cuba and scrubbing the slums to finally latch onto a girl you can legally marry. But think of the greater good, Mark. You’ll just have to get used to sticking with your sister these next few years.

  17. @J.C. You’re a very bitter person. I wish you a happy life and many wonderful trips to Cuba. Adios amigo.

  18. @JC,

    I’d like to know where you get your rather draconian view of tourist life in Cuba?

    I’ve not been to Cuba but AirBnb tells me I could rent from over 300 apartments in Havana – are all those people “specially allowed to work in the foreign tourism sector” as you said?

    I had family visit Cuba – entering through Mexico and traveling pretty much on their own. They found privately run restaurants to eat at and what we might call BnBs to stay at. They found a private driver who’s wife was a doctor in Cuba – the income levels you talk about are correct but the restrictions and police state you describe have nothing to do with my family’s experience.

  19. @Greg, Actually, I am glad you have been bringing this up. It made me think about the topic a lot from a travel perspective. Even before Obama was President, I wanted to go to Cuba to see the 1950s economy in the great documentary (old school (1997) Buena Vista Club. As a US Citizen, one could always go to one of the surrounding countries and go to Cuba without a passport stamp. Cuba needed the cash. However, I always thought that that might get me on a list with the USA government that I did not want to be on. I am a little surprised to realize that Obama did not fully normalize relations with Cuba. In any case, given the the USA government is tracking everyone going to Cuba (especially under Trump), I will put off planning a trip to Cuba for the time being. I do not want to get on any lists. Further, there are many other places I can go.

  20. @als: I’ve been to Cuba numerous times, most recently two months ago. To see exactly how the show is run, you need to scratch the surface a little.

    Your driver was not an ordinary driver. If he provided transportation services es to you, he was allowed to do so. It’s not something he just decided to do on his own without approval. In Havana, you work where they tell you to work or where they allow you to work. There are a few who are part of an experimental project to encourage growth of the private sector — mainly small businesses such as the restaurants you mentioned. And even these people are carefully selected to participate. You cannot just wake up one morning and decide, “Gee, I think I’ll start a restaurant.”

    But even then, they are watched. There are issues about currency controls that are tightly supervised. Nobody outside of the currency exchange system is permitted to accept US dollars in cash. If caught, penalties are severe. Your three kg family quota of rice per month can be cut to just one. But no big deal, right? I mean, with $127 per month, you can afford to buy food. Sure, you can. You can buy about 5 kg of rice and a bar of soap for $127.

    Think about AirBnb for a minute. You know all housing is owned by the government. You live precisely where they allow you or assign you to live. You are never allowed to share your house with non-Cubans. Even bringing in a Cuban outside your family you must register these people with the police.

    So where do these AirBnB apartments come from? They do not come from landlords because there are no landlords. The government allows local work units (work units control the housing ultimately assigned to their workers) to “experiment” in capitalism and rent these out. I have personally seen a couple of people try to rent out rooms in their personal abode and get caught. Think of China circa 1970; there is never a shortage of old folks in the neighborhood who have nothing better to do than play cards outside all day and gossip about how they saw a white guy enter Dr. Suarez’s house the other day. Dropping a dime is as much a part of Cuban life as eating rice is.

    Want a real education on Cuba but can’t actually travel there? There’s a daily LACSA flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Miami upon which the lucky approximately 100 Cubans per day legally allowed to leave Cuba and go to the USA travel. Take that flight. That flight IS Cuba. In four succinct words: depressing as all hell.

    When Cuba decides to send our cop killers back and allows us to send Cuban murderers and drug dealers back to Cuba, start engaging and hope it leads to reforms. Otherwise, screw them. Let them wallow in poverty a bit longer.

  21. @Flyer Fun: You can still fly via San Jose. Unless you make a crazy mistake when returning to the US, you’ll be ok.

    Don’t let them stamp your passport. Don’t bring back Cuban cigars or wear a t-shirt saying “Enjoy Cuba!” and you’ll be ok.

  22. @J.C. Haven’t been to Cuba yet. But I’ve been to Vietnam twice (1999 and 2015), to China twice (1999 and 2015) and Russia once (1993 — going back next year)

    The trips to Vietnam were most instructive. I was a host for the first group of Americans to go to Vietnam after normalization of relations. I hosted Ambassador Pete Peterson, and my wife hosted his beautiful and charming wife (a native Vietnamese lady), with our group for lunch at the Hanoi Hilton (the hotel, not the mostly demolished prison that is now a propaganda point). We received a “bird’s eye” view of life in Vietnam then and during the war from Ambassador Peterson

    In 1999, everyone was monitored. The Socialist regime had no clue what to do with traveling Americans. In Saigon, we felt OK, but in Hanoi, people crossed the street to avoid us. We went only where the regime was comfortable with us. Because we were part of a German corporation doing business in Vietnam, we had a surreal cocktail reception on the rooftop of the Rex Hotel in Saigon with a bunch of old NVA cadre, who stood around in their ill fitting uniforms not knowing what to do.

    In 2015, there was little evidence of monitoring, because westerners were everywhere. We were comfortable in Saigon, and in Hanoi. We could tell the difference between the two cities — Hanoi is the political capital, and Saigon is the financial capital, but that seemed to be more of an internal tension between the leadership of the two cities, just as there is tension today between the leadership in Shanghai (the financial capital) and Beijing (the political capital). What is going on from a political standpoint is a wholesale revision of history of the U.S.-Vietnam war there. If you cannot control the tourists, control the narrative presented. (Sir Thomas More was right — history is written by the victors.)

    My view is that the same process would happen in Cuba if it was left alone. Over the next 20 years, the monitored state would largely disappear from the lack of resources to monitor everyone who comes in, and from the comfort of the Cuban people there with the influx of foreigners of all types. This process has been set back by the Administration, partly because of payback to South Florida representatives who voted to repeal Obamacare, but demanded this rollback as the political price, and partly because the Administration wants to undo all things Obama.

    Now, this process will be set back by a few years. But it will continue eventually.

  23. @J.C. I think that it will put me on some FBI list. Maybe I am paranoid. I will wait until relations are normalized and traveling there is no big deal.

  24. @Flyer Fun: Although I think you’d be ok, you should exercise caution as best you see fit.

    Once you do visit Cuba, you will like it. People are great there.

  25. @Retired Lawyer: I absolutely agree that Cuba is likely to follow the path that both China and Vietnam have regarding relations with the US and experience positive changes.

    But now is not the time for Cuba. The big difference between China & Vietnam and Cuba is that China and Vietnam did not harbor convicted cop killers along with assorted other murderers and vermin. Further, for the most part, China & Vietnam did not prevent repatriation of their murders, drug dealers and thousands of other assorted felons from the USA.

  26. I’m pretty sure what he’ll say is that he is enforcing the existing law as written, and that Obama’s measures (apart from diplomatic recognition which clearly was his prerogative) were a case of choosing to ignore the law. It’s an arguable point, but not unfounded. I’m glad I went last year – kind of rushed it a bit, knowing that it could be brief window of opportunity. I think I could have made the case I qualified in one of the 12 categories, but was glad not to have to.

  27. An absolutely stupid and counterproductive move, which interferes with our natural human right to travel where we please, without any justification for national security. I have no interest in going to Cuba, as it sounds like the communists have wrung every bit of charm out of it, and turned Havana into a sort of Marxist zoo to gawk at the prisoners, but no government has the right to tell me I can’t travel there to see it for myself. At the same time as interfering with the rights of Americans, it recommits the USA to a policy which has allowed Castro and his running dogs to blame their misfortunes and poverty on the US, and help them to cling to power. Ridiculous in every possible way.

  28. Imagine the US reaction to a country that only allowed travel to the US if “, or promote the (American)Cuban people’s independence from (American)Cuban authorities” – note substitute American for Cuban – can’t figure out how to cross through the text

  29. @Estelle: Imagine if you were able to discern the difference between a brutal military dictatorship and the freest country on the planet.

  30. @Mak (or is that you, Mark?) – Has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with refusing to continue to allow a brutal, ant-American dictatorship to profit off of the U.S. And it isn’t about some hipster being able to sip a mojito in Havana. BHO cut a horrible deal, and got absolutely nothing in return – – maybe less than nothing, because things are just as bad or worse now for the Cuban people, and the military has profited in the meantime. You can expect President Trump to negotiate a much better deal. MAGA.

  31. American history is littered with relations with brutal dictators. Even now we support many dictators in Bahrain, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan. If it wasn’t for the extreme right Cuban exiles in Miami this wouldn’t even be an issue. Cuba is 90 miles from South Florida and dialogue with the Cuban people is the best way to improve their lives and get rid of their current government. It also represents export opportunities and American jobs. I definitely agree with keeping the pressure on the government but cutting off our nose inspite of our face isn’t the answer and the embargo has been a dismal failure.

  32. The error here was BHO cutting a horrible deal, and getting absolutely nothing in return other than a photo op with some Commies at a baseball game. Amateur hour is over – – Trump will get ‘er done.

  33. Couple of comments:
    MAGADan says: “Or how the regime stole land, money and peoples lives”.

    J.C. says: “Do you have any idea what contact tourists have with Cubans? Practically none at all”
    ———-
    MAGADan, take a look at the US backed Bastista regime and why there was a revolution to over throw Batista. Things don’t happen in a vacuum. Tortue, killings, were rampant under Bastista and the majority of the Cuban population was impoverished and illiterate working seasonal jobs for international companies.

    The US embargo unfortunately means a shortage of resources and the government has to ration to make sure everyone gets something. On the other hand 100% of the Cuban population has healthcare and is literate. How is the US doing on healthcare and education?

    @J.C., Not sure what your experience with ordinary Cuban has been, but hire a private car and spend a few days touring around. There is your contact one on one. Stay in a a casa particular, there’s another point of sustained contact. When were you “monitored”?

    Millions of visitors from the rest of the world has been visiting Cuba for decades and still will. Pres. Trump has changed hardly anything of what Pres. Obama’s put into place except for forcing Americans to travel in Cuban state guided tours and stay in government hotels (now that is ironic). One downside of Pres. Obama’s relaxation of US travel is increased prices for tourists in Cuba and tourists consuming more of the scarce resources (e.g., meat). Pres. Trump’s modest increase in restrictions could have the effect of reducing the number of US tourists, reducing the pressure on resources and making Cuba more affordable again for the rest of us travellers. Visitors from other countries will continue to stay in casa particulars, eat in private restaurants and hire entrepreneur guides, so don’t worry, money will still flow to families. Trump changes nothing in this regard.

    Then Pete wrote, “@Estelle: Imagine if you were able to discern the difference between a brutal military dictatorship and the freest country on the planet”. Pete, I think you need to travel more. By the way, which country is the freest country on the planet? I don’t think it’s the one you are thinking of. Which country just restricted where its people can freely travel? In which country do minorities live in fear or racist attacks, physical attacks, and xenophobia? Which country has a government that is secretly working to take away affordable healthcare from a large proportion of its vulnerable population? On the other hand, if living without affordable healthcare, without free and high quality education, and in fear everyday defines “freedom”, please fill your boots.

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