Big changes in Cuba, but infrastructure needs to catch up
Kempinski is refurbishing the Hotel Manzana de Gomez in Old Havana. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill
In advance of President Obama’s historic trip to Havana this week, his administration made perhaps the most significant changes so far to the regulations surrounding Cuba tourism by allowing Americans to visit the island without being a member of a tour group.
On its face, the rules about what U.S. visitors can do in Cuba don’t change: Individuals are only allowed to travel to Cuba for one of 12 reasons, including “people-to-people educational” trips. But on people-to-people trips, they no longer have to travel with a licensed group.
Regular tourism to Cuba is still technically illegal, but the rules are essentially unenforceable. Americans will be able to travel on their own in Cuba by self-certifying via an affidavit that they are conforming to the regulations, which the Department of the Treasury defined as “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that will result in a meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”
“Cuba is facing tremendous challenges,” said Ronen Paldi, the president of Ya’lla Tours USA, which has been operating in Cuba since 2002. “In the last 15 to 16 months, the administration is doing all this easing of the restrictions. But what has not changed is the infrastructure in Cuba. Hotels are full, completely sold out until May 2018. Prices are going up, space is becoming more and more limited.”
Diane Mullahy, the president of Travel Leaders in Framingham, Mass., has been building a Cuba business since regulations first relaxed last year and has had to contend with a lack of rooms and restaurants.
“The problem is travel there has increased 70% since last year, and there are not enough hotels, and each time I go the restaurants are packed,” she said. “It’s just so busy. They have a long way to go.