President Barack Obama's move to ease travel restrictions to Cuba cleared the way for commercial airlines and cruise ships to legally bring American citizens to the close-by Caribbean country for the first time in 50 years.
But travel to Cuba may be back on ice in the New Year if President-elect Donald Trump carries through with his threat to “terminate” the deal that reopened Cuban-American relations.
This and other Trump statements lead travel guru Arthur Frommer to believe Trump will quash the Cuba deal, “unless a number of major industries — cruise lines, airlines, hotel chains, and other travel entities — succeed in persuading him that they have invested heavy sums in the preparation for widespread American tourism to Cuba,” Frommer wrote in a recent blog post.
“Where things go after January 20 is anyone’s guess,” said Eben Peck, Senior Vice President, Government & Industry Affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents. “But we’re committed to educating the incoming Administration and the new Congress on why restricting Americans’ ability to travel to Cuba makes no sense in this day and age.”
A recent poll of ASTA members found that while there was steady interest in travel to Cuba over the past year, inquiries and interest have waned a bit since the U.S. presidential election.
But for those still considering a trip to Cuba, travel experts and advisers offer some pros and cons:
“Now is a fantastic time to visit Cuba if you’re curious, adventurous, and after a bit of culture,” said Lonely Planet Cuba writer Brendan Sainsbury.
He notes that services such as Wi-Fi are improving — and there's now a U.S. embassy, in case you run into problems.
Cuba, he says, still retains its individuality and magic; no bland brands, golf courses or casinos — yet.
“With a Trump presidency, it's difficult to know what will happen, so travelers may as well go now while the door is at least partially open,” said Sainsbury.
Travel advisers such as Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, agree.
“People should go now, not because of fear that a Trump administration will restrain travel, but because Cuba could get overrun with tourists,” said Ezon, “There are six mass cruise lines slated to visit next year, so the luxury of going to Cuba is seeing it before it fades into the generic blur of the Western society.”
On the ‘con’ side, both Ezon and Sainsbury point to an infrastructure lag.
“Tours and experiences are controlled by the government tour company, and that causes a backlog in response time,” said Ezon. “The best hotels in Havana are 3-star at best — but sell at 5-star rates.”
Sainsbury has also noticed that hotel rooms in Havana have risen two-and-three-fold in the last year or so, and that “basics are often missing” in some state-run hotels.
Still, he urges travelers to go to Cuba now, telling NBC News, “The restaurant scene is improving, especially in Havana, and Havana’s Gran Teatro has just been refurbished and reopened."
In the past few year seven Cuban cities (Trinidad, Remedios, Santiago, Sancti Spiritus, Bayamo, Baracoa and Camagüey) have celebrated their 500th anniversary and received facelifts that have added museums, hotels, shops, and entertainment.
“If the progress and financial investment stand, there is reason to remain cautiously optimistic about travel to Cuba,” said Mark Simoes, vice-president of Balboa vacations, “but it is likely best to book now as a precaution.”