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Trump Will Tighten, but Not Nix, Cuba Travel

Cruise lines, tour operators, travel agents and others in the travel industry are figuring out how Trump's changes will affect American business in Cuba.
Image: Cuba U.S. Relations
Cuban-American Gina Gonzalez waves an American flag in front of the U.S. embassy on July 20, 2015 in Havana. FileDesmond Boylan / AP File

During a speech today in Miami, President Donald Trump announced changes in the United States’ Cuba policy that will put back in place some travel restrictions lifted under the Obama administration, but leave others alone.

U.S. citizens will be prohibited from staying in U.S.-based hotels that operate in Cuba in partnership with the Cuban government. Marriott is currently the only U.S. hotel company with a property open in Cuba, and this new regulation could put the property’s license renewal — and the opening of a planned second property — in jeopardy.

“We have invested significant resources establishing a presence in Cuba, and with one hotel open and another in the pipeline we have just begun our work creating opportunity and a more vibrant tourism sector on the island," said Marriott International in a statement. “We are still analyzing the policy directive issued by the president today, and its full effect on our current and planned operations in Cuba may depend on related forthcoming regulations."

President’s Trump’s company can not pursue foreign deals — such as building a Trump Hotel in Cuba — during his presidency, and these new regulations could prohibit his competitors in the hotel field from building hotels in Cuba as well.

Cruise lines, tour operators, travel agents and others in the travel industry are also studying the policy directive for clues to how it will change opportunities and travel costs for visitors to Cuba.

“The new rules would mean that having dinner in state-owned clubs or visits to nightclubs such as Tropicana are prohibited,” said Olga Ramudo, president and CEO of Express Travel in Coral Gables, Florida. “Eating at paladares, which are small restaurants operated out of private homes, would be allowed,” she said.

Ramudo believes the new rules will make trips to Cuba more expensive, because they will have to be conducted in a group accompanied by a tour escort — and that the winner in this new policy is the cruise industry, because the all-inclusive nature of cruises will make it easier for travelers to comply with the rules.

Carnival Corporation, one of several companies offering cruises that stop in Cuba, is pleased that Trump’s policy changes will allow its ships to continue to sail to Cuba.

“We will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba since we first undertook our historic first cruise to Cuba more than a year ago,” Carnival said in its statement.

“We’re seeing mixed reaction from cruisers on our Cruise Critic forums," said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive director of "Some are staying positive that their booked cruises won’t be affected. Others worry how new restrictions may curtail the way lines are able to do business in the region, and how it may impact their own cruises.”

The American Society of Travel Agents told NBC News this week that it is “disappointed with what we believe will be the thrust of the Trump administration’s announcement: that it plans to turn back the clock in terms of expanded travel and trade between the U.S. and Cuba,” said Zane Kerby, ASTA President & CEO.

“Broadly speaking, while challenges remain in terms of Cuba’s readiness for large volumes of American travelers, the past few years have seen a growth in business for U.S. travel agencies, tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, hotel and other travel companies. That progress now appears to be at great risk,” Kerby added.

Details on the government's changes can be found here.