The Trump administration on Tuesday June 4, 2019 ended the most popular forms of U.S. travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily used category of educational travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island’s communist government.
Cruise travel from the U.S. to Cuba began in May 2016 during President Barack Obama’s opening with the island. It has become the most popular form of U.S. leisure travel to the island, bringing 142,721 people in the first four months of the year, a more than 300% increase over the same period last year. For travelers confused about the thicket of federal regulations governing travel to Cuba, cruises offered a simple, one-stop, guaranteed-legal way to travel.
That now appears to be over. Cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow, June 5, 2019.
The new restrictions are part of a broader effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to roll back the Obama-era efforts to restore normal relations between the United States and Cuba, which drew sharp criticism from the more hard-line elements of the Cuban American community and their allies in Congress.
Beginning on Wednesday, the United States will not permit group educational and cultural trips known as “people to people” trips to the island unless they were booked before June 5, the Treasury Department said in a statement. Nor will it allow cruises, private yachts or fishing vessels to stop in Cuba. Group people-to-people trips have been used by thousands of American visitors.
The move left tour companies and cruise lines assessing the impact and how they might have to modify their operations in Cuba. The federal government has long restricted travel to Cuba, with the rules changing from one presidential administration to the next. Under the changes introduced by the Obama administration, Americans in 2016 were able visit either in groups or individually, as long as they fell into one of 12 categories, including “people-to-people” visits and “support for the Cuban people” trips, the two most popular.
Under “support for the Cuban people” category, individuals can travel to Cuba, but they must have an itinerary filled with meetings and visits with local business owners, artists or others. They must plan on participating in local activities and staying in a private home, instead of a hotel.