News:News Headlines

Cruise lines welcome continued access to Cuba

Will there be adequate tour capacity for all cruisers to participate in sanctioned group programs? Here, Chinese-built tour buses in Havana Will there be adequate tour capacity for all cruisers to participate in sanctioned group programs? Here, Chinese-built tour buses in Havana (Photo: Anne Kalosh)

Cruise operators were spared President Trump's reinstatement of many Cuba travel restrictions and likely will benefit further since Americans are no longer allowed to plan their own private trips.

As well, cruises between the US and Cuba are protected with an exemption from the new prohibition on financial transactions with Cuban military-controlled entities, provided these commercial arrangements are in place before the new regulations are issued.

The US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said it plans to publish regulatory amendments in the coming months. The announced changes won't take effect until those new regulations are issued.

On Friday, companies big and small—from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings to Pearl Seas Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions and the newly approved for Cuba sailings Victory Cruise Lines—expressed their pleasure at being able to continue service to the island.

All, along with Carnival Corp. & plc—which already on Thursday had announced Trump's policy changes would allow its sailings to continue—operate group excursions that comply with the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba.

As to whether larger ships may be challenged in being able to secure enough tour capacity ashore for everyone to participate in sanctioned group programs, a Carnival Corp. spokeswoman told Seatrade Cruise News the company doesn't see any issue.

Its first Cuba cruises with Fathom involved large tour groups, 'so it is helpful to have this prior experience and a strong relationship with our tour company,' the spokeswoman said. 'Once we have the opportunity to study the new policy in detail, we will have a better view of how best to move forward.

'The good news is that we will have the opportunity to continue our cruises to Cuba.'

Royal Caribbean said there is no impact on its Cuba cruises. 'Our guests are already enjoying curated people-to-people experiences under the approved categories of travel,' the company said in a statement, adding that it will continue to review the policy changes and any updated regulations during the implementation period—which may take several months.

'Cruises to Cuba have been very popular with our guests and we look forward to continue sailing to this destination,' Royal Caribbean said.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings likewise stated all of its voyages and shore excursions—with Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—are in full compliance with the OFAC regulations, 'and we will work with the administration to comply with any changes to those and any other regulations that will result from its decision.

'We are also pleased that education travel and travel that supports the Cuban people will continue,' NCLH said. '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.'

Across its three brands, 70,000 Cuba-booked passengers 'would have been very disappointed if they were unable to experience this spectacular destination,' NCLH said.

'We are delighted our guests will continue to have the opportunity to experience the wonderful culture and incredible history of Cuba along with the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people through OFAC-compliant shore excursions that support private businesses and the Cuban people, an opportunity that was restricted for over 50 years.'

Small ship line Pearl Seas Cruises said it's pleased to offer Cuba cultural exchanges and to continue its program of 'meaningful engagement with the people of Cuba under an approved form of travel. We will review the revised policy and approach our future sailings to Cuba to satisfy the new requirements,' the company added.

Lindblad Expeditions also believes its educational Cuba program can go forward unchanged.

'All arrangements have already been confirmed for our second season in Cuba, which begins Dec. 6, 2017, and continues through March 2018 aboard the 46-guest Harmony V. We look forward to introducing our guests to Cuba’s cultural heritage and natural wonders on our people-to-people land and sea program,' Lindblad said.

The newest operator approved for Cuba service, Victory Cruise Lines, is 'excited about the opportunity the revised approach has created as we are basically doing everything already that is required,' president and ceo Bruce Nierenberg said.

'We are all-inclusive so we have total control over the tours ashore, their content, the way they are managed, the personal involvement of our tour leaders and all related issues of participation,' he said.

'We see this approach as the best way to protect our passengers, our tour operators and the wishes of our government, and ensure we can bring economic benefit to the Cuban people through our visits.'

According to Nierenberg, a company like Victory can spread the economic benefit not just to Havana, where other lines' bigger ships go, but 'to all the five corners of the country.

'It’s a win-win for the US and Cuba,' he said.

Posted 16 June 2017

© Copyright 2017 Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd. Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd.

Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

Box 4