The U.S. government has “temporarily” lifted its travel ban on Cuba.
“Effective immediately, license suspension and restriction upon travel shall be ended for authorized individuals to Cuba under the executive order,” the State Department announced in a statement.
The U.S. government’s blacklisted Cuba policy has been rescinded for the U.S. travel ban (if any) for visitors who are “admitted to the United States on a tourist basis on a purely tourist basis.” The policy change was inspired by a petition on the White House’s website that called for the administration to stop restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.
One of the petitioners, Terry DeWitt of New Jersey, was especially appreciative of the White House’s decision. “It’s good news not only for people like me who want to travel to Cuba but for my grandchildren,” she said in a statement.
A White House statement noted that President Trump was “willing to review the conditions of the embargo,” but stopped short of promising an end to the trade embargo that the Obama administration began lifting a few months after taking office.
According to the Department of State, around 220,000 visitors arrived in Cuba in fiscal year 2017, with an estimated total value of about $1.2 billion. The vast majority — $840 million — was spent on tourism, while the rest was spent on the number of Cuban workers sent to the U.S. for the purposes of work.
In fact, Travelzoo, an online travel booking site, found in a 2016 report that the number of tourists arriving in Cuba had gone up 18 percent in the three years between 2014 and 2016. Most of the visitors — nearly 65 percent — came from Canada, which was followed by Mexico and the United Kingdom.
At the same time, at least 50,000 Americans visited Cuba annually before Obama’s 2015 opening and after the 2014 uprisings on the island, with 50,000 of those traveling under the Obama policy.
Leaders of the bipartisan American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) were immediately excited about the news:
What this means for #Tourism in Cuba is huge, nothing but a big “wow”. We’ve been discussing and asking for this. #ASTA #Tourism http://t.co/3RFuJawrJZ — Christopher Knight (@CKnox) March 18, 2017
Today’s news on US travel to Cuba is great. Our industry was committed to working to get better access for our members and the travel community as a whole. http://t.co/2jkqTrBBjZ — James Williams (@egyptianandeguy) March 18, 2017
As my constituent’s wife and I are about to go to Cuba this summer, I am excited about today’s policy change. http://t.co/3JkqTrBBjZ — James Williams (@egyptianandeguy) March 18, 2017
But Bloomberg’s Raymond Colitt points out that while Cuba may be welcoming back U.S. tourists, the Cuban people are not. Colitt wrote that 90 percent of the people he talked to during his year-long reporting in Cuba did not want U.S. visitors. “[P]eople interviewed in general agree that U.S. tourists would make the island more valuable for a government already facing pressure for political and economic reforms,” he wrote.