U.S. cruise ships still call on Cuban ports and U.S. airlines, such as American and Southwest, still list Havana and Camaguey as destinations.
But Cuba – not long ago bustling with good-tipping, heavy-spending Americans – is experiencing a steep decline in U.S. travelers.
Reasons vary, including new restrictions on travel imposed by President Trump and Hurricane Irma’s brush with the island last year. But the main reason fewer Americans are traveling to the communist island is one of perception, said Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba’s, a New York-based tour operator that organizes trips to Cuba.
On April 19, Raul Castro is expected to step down as president of Cuba and be replaced by Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel – a move not expected to impact the dearth of U.S. visitors to Cuba.
Trump has taken a more aggressive stance against the Castro-led government, making U.S. visitors hesitant to travel to the island, Popper said.
“Very little changed to the regulations,” said Popper, who is projecting a 25%-30% drop in passengers to Cuba this year. “But the message has had a much bigger impact.”
Americans eagerly began streaming to Cuba shortly after President Barack Obama announced a détente between the U.S. and Cuba in 2014. Airlines were allowed to fly to Cuba and cruise ships began docking at the Bay of Havana. Airbnb spread through the island, making it even easier for U.S. travelers.
Trump reversed some of Obama’s policies, including restricting “people-to-people” visas that many Americans were using to venture to the island. The U.S. maintains an economic embargo against Cuba that prohibits travel there solely for tourism, though there are other categories under which travelers can visit the island.
But other Obama changes, such as allowing cruise ships and airlines to travel to Cuba, were left untouched.
“The public is presuming, based on the announcements (last year), that regulations have changed significantly,” Popper said. “But what we’re looking at is really much of the same opportunity for people to legally travel to Cuba.”