Trump's new Cuba rules not seen to impact cruising

The new US rules for travel to Cuba have 'no surprises' for cruise lines, one major operator said The new US rules for travel to Cuba have 'no surprises' for cruise lines, one major operator said (Photo: Anne Kalosh)

Cruises are not affected under the Trump administration's new Cuba travel restrictions, issued today, according to multiple sources.

Those rules, which reverse many of President Obama's moves to ease travel to the island, spring from a policy change President Trump announced five months ago.

'Today there were no surprises,' a senior executive from a major cruise company told Seatrade Cruise News. 'Cruise lines are still allowed to bring people.'

And Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. spokesman Rob Zeiger said: 'We're still studying it closely but it does not appear there will be any changes for cruise.'

The new rules do forbid most individual visits, including people-to-people non-academic educational travel, and require US citizens again to travel as part of groups licensed by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control for specific purposes and be accompanied by a group leader.

They also bar Americans from staying at particular hotels, and from patronizing restaurants and shops the State Department has determined are owned by or benefit members of the Cuban military, intelligence and security services. This 'restricted list' will be maintained by the State Department and periodically updated in the Federal Register.

'We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,' US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the new rules, which take effect Nov. 9 when they're published in the Federal Register.

But Collin Laverty, a US-Cuba relations expert and president of Cuba Educational Travel, found the regulations 'absolute hypocrisy' at a time when President Trump is meeting with communist leaders in China and Vietnam. He said 'these limited tweaks to President Obama’s policy demonstrate the popularity of opening up trade and travel with Cuba,' adding there remain many ways to legally visit the island.

'Americans can rest assured that it’s still completely legal to visit Cuba,' Laverty said. 'Commercial flights, cruise ships, Marriott hotels, Airbnb and top-notch tour providers continue to operate business as usual, and it takes just minutes to secure your legal trip to the island.'

Though cruises from the US can continue, the new rules are 'disruptive' in terms of US-based lines' ability to invest in port infrastructure improvements, Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corp. & plc, noted last June after President Trump announced his policy.

As far as the impact of the US travel warning issued in late September on cruise sales, two different reactions were heard during earnings calls Tuesday.

Lindblad Expeditions CFO Craig Felenstein said his company hasn't seen many new bookings since the warning, while there have been some cancellations. Cuba will still be profitable for Lindblad, he added, but not at the return originally projected.

Royal Caribbean International president and CEO Michael Bayley, meanwhile, said that when the warning broke in the media, the company received a spike in queries from customers and travel partners.

'Everybody was trying to seek clarity but after, literally, a few days, things just returned to normal and the business is very good for our Cuba product,' Bayley said.

See also 'Cuba "star of the show" for NCLH, capacity doubling'

Posted 08 November 2017

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Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

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