Cuba tourism suffers following U.S. travel restrictions, hurricanes

Cuba’s tourism saw a drop in 2018 following travel restrictions imposed by the Donald Trump administration and last year’s devastating hurricanes, said a Cuban tourism expert.

Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism reported this week that the country has received three million tourists so far this year. However, this number was reached 16 days later than that in 2017.

Jose Luis Perello, professor with the Faculty of Tourism at the University of Havana, said there was a decrease of 6.6 percent in tourist arrivals up to May 31 of this year compared to the same period last year.

According to Perello, the drop was caused by two principal reasons: the hurricanes devastating the island in 2017, and tightening travel restrictions placed by the Trump administration.

He explained that U.S. measures prohibiting U.S. citizens’ trips to Cuba solely for tourism, through the use of “people to people” visas, made entering Cuba more difficult.

The same restrictions reduced business for U.S. airlines that had established direct commercial links with Havana and other Cuban cities after the thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations during Barack Obama’s presidency.

This week, the Center for Responsible Travel published a survey of 42 American tour operators involved in Cuban tourism. The study revealed that 85 percent of the companies reported a significant decrease in bookings and an increase of cancellations during the second half of last year.

Around 85 percent predicted fewer “people to people” travel bookings in 2018.

Rafael Betancourt, a Cuban professor involved in the study, said that the decrease of 56.6 percent in American tourist arrivals since June 2017 represented a seven percent reduction in the total number of foreign visitors to Cuba.

Last year almost 620,000 U.S. tourists visited Cuba, he noted.

In June 2017, the Trump administration issued a group of regulations to restrict “people to people” visas, a popular way U.S. tourists were able to gain entry to the island. Tourists are now obliged to be accompanied by a U.S.-based guide.

Since 2012, foreign tourist numbers have grown an average of 13 percent annually, making tourism one of the most important industries for the Cuban economy.

Last year’s record visitor number of 4.69 million is set to be beaten in 2018, with around five million tourists expected to visit Cuba, said the Ministry of Tourism.