Cuba perception takes another hit with latest travel restriction

Cuba perception takes another hit with latest travel restriction

The U.S. government’s decision to restrict charter-air
operations
between the U.S. to Cuba doesn’t have a practical effect on many
tour itineraries, but it’s another blow to consumer perception about
legal tourism there.

The action will halt charter flights between the U.S. and
Cuban airports outside of Havana following a 60-day wind-down period. The DOT
will also impose a cap on public charter flights to Havana.

The moves follow the Trump administration’s ban on
commercial flights to Cuba destinations outside of Havana, which went into
effect last month.

The majority of tours sold to American travelers won’t be
directly impacted by the action. For example, David Lee, the owner of Cultural
Cuba, said all of its U.S. clients fly in and out of Havana and do not use
charter air.

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said
that commercial airfare to Havana is still “available, affordable and easy.”

But, he said, “Unfortunately, it will have a negative impact
on tourist travel to Cuba because it’s another headline that confuses would-be
travel.”

InsightCuba does have a tour, Undiscovered Cuba, that begins
in Havana and ends in Santiago de Cuba, using the airport in Holguin. After the
government restricted commercial air last month, Insight switched to charter
service. With that no longer an option, president Tom Popper said there would
be changes to that itinerary. It will operate roundtrip from Havana and skip
Santiago de Cuba and add Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

“We’ve been providing legal travel across four presidential
administrations, and you don’t last for 20 years without being able to adapt
while still providing transformative experiences for your travelers,” Popper
said.

In order to “dispel” some of the confusion about airlift to
Cuba, Popper said, InsightCuba is offering free air for guests who register on
Undiscovered Cuba, Classic Cuba, Legendary Cuba and Weekend in Havana tours.

In the explanation of the action, U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo said in a statement that it would “further restrict the Cuban
regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing
repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator
Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.”

Laverty and Popper said the restrictions would predominately
affect people traveling to see family who live outside of Havana. Popper said
the charter services were developed more than 40 years ago to enable family
visits between the U.S. and Cuba, at a time when there was no direct commercial
service.

“For Cubans who live in the U.S. and travel home to see
family … this is a heartbreaking measure that will provide serious challenges
to them and their loved ones,” Laverty said.
___

Jeri Clausing and Robert Silk contributed to this report.

Correction: One of the cities on the Undiscovered Cuba itinerary was incorrectly named in a previous version of this report. It is Sancti Spiritus.

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