Staying the Course: CREST Coalition Work in Cuba

Beginning in June 2017, the Trump administration announced a series of measures which have undermined and, in some instances, reversed the diplomatic and travel liberalizations put in place under President Obama. Most crippling for U.S. travel have been the State Department's official Travel Warning advising "U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba," the steep cuts in diplomatic personnel in the U.S. Embassy in Havana and Cuban Embassy in Washington, and the bans on specific types of travel and business transactions.

View a timeline of recent U.S. policy changes and links to relevant news articles on policy changes, updates on U.S. travel to Cuba, and impacts the travel warning is having in Cuba.

In response to these moves, CREST hosted a strategy meeting in mid-October for some two dozen leaders in sustainable tourism and experts in U.S.-Cuban policy. The purpose was to discuss the various actions the group might undertake to ensure that educational travel and people-to-people exchanges in Cuba—which have slowed and, in some cases, been cancelled—continue unheeded.

The coalition agreed on two basic messages:

  1. Cuba is safe and open for travel. There is no evidence that tourists have been involved with the same kinds of health incidents suffered by U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana.
  2. The State Department's Travel Warning and 60 percent mandatory reductions in U.S. and Cuban embassy staff are hurting U.S. businesses, travelers, and Cuban-American families, as well as Cuba's tourism-dependent economy.

The experts at the meeting shared the many ways in which these latest U.S. policies have impacted university and museum programs, people-to-people exchanges, and the travel businesses. They include:

  • Policies at some universities force them to cancel travel programs if a government Travel Warning has been issued.
  • Government-funded agencies also prohibit their employees and others utilizing their travel abroad programs from visiting countries with a Travel Warning.
  • Commercial travel providers have reported individual cancellations and/or postponement of trips to Cuba.
  • In general, there is confusion in the marketplace about what is legal and permitted, as some travelers and even travel professionals have concluded that Americans are not allowed to visit Cuba at all.

Faced with these challenges, the coalition agreed on these next steps:

  1. Craft a letter raising a series of questions and concerns and have it signed by Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate. A version of this letter could also be used as a briefing document for the travel industry and as the basis for op-eds in newspapers. The coalition will prepare a toolkit on how to use the letter in these and other ways.
  2. Pitch stories to the media that cover how individuals, businesses, and travel providers, in the United States and Cuba, are being affected by recent U.S. policies.
  3. Collect information from travel providers and sustainable travel experts to gauge the impacts, to date, of the travel warning and other measures.
  4. Hold a press conference aboard the 130-foot schooner the Harvey Gamage, a tall ship taking five "gap year," or between high school and college, students and a crew of 10 to Cienfuegos, Cuba, for ecological studies and people-to-people exchanges.

As we work to understand how the new regulations will impact U.S. travel to Cuba, stay up to date with resources provided by our coalition and view coalition activities.