Skift Take

The U.S. travel warning might have been limited to visiting hotels in Cuba, where U.S. embassy employees have allegedly been targeted. But instead the Trump administration would prefer to close the door on all U.S. citizen travel to Cuba. As Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said at the Skift Global Forum, U.S. policy toward Cuba has accomplished nothing over the last few decades.

The U.S. State Department issued a categorical travel warning about Cuba: Americans shouldn’t visit.

“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba,” the warning begins. [See the full text of the travel warning for Cuba below.]

Published news articles earlier Friday indicated that a warning would be tied to U.S. embassy employees in Havana reportedly being subjected to attacks of an unspecified nature in Cuban hotels and at diplomatic facilities.

But the actual warning issued today says isn’t limited to hotels but cautions U.S. citizens to avoid the island altogether.  This will be a blow, in particular, to cruise lines and U.S. airlines that have upped their itineraries on the island since the Obama administration opened things up.

The warning also announced that nonemergency U.S. Embassy employees and their families will be leaving Cuba.

The reaction from the travel industry in the immediate aftermath of the warning Friday was diverse. {See comments below.]

Cynthia Martinez, director of corporate reputation and communications for Royal Caribbean Cruises | Director, Corporate Reputation | Corporate Communications, said the incidents involving U.S. embassy staff in hotels and in diplomatic facilities in Cuba does not pose a risk to cruise passengers, who depart their ships, participate on escorted tours, and then return to the ships.

And American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the warning will not impact the airline’s service to Cuba for now.

Meanwhile, JetBlue is waiving cancellation fees for travel booked on or before September 29, 2017, the day the State Department issued the warning. These changes can be made without fees through November 1.

The Trump administration had announced in June that it would leave airline and cruise travel to Cuba mostly intact, but it would clamp down on travel companies, such as U.S.-based hotel companies, doing business with the Cuban military. Many tourism enterprises in Cuba, particularly hotels, have ties to the Cuban military.

It’s up to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control to specify how the Trump administration plans to restrict U.S. travel to Cuba, reversing some of the Obama administration’s policies to open up Cuba travel to U.S. citizens, but the new regulations have not materialized yet despite missing a 90-day deadline.

All bets are off now that the State Department has warned Americans to avoid traveling to Cuba. Perhaps the new Treasury Department regulations will be more far-reaching than many observers envisioned.

U.S. embassy employees in Havana have reportedly experienced everything from hearing loss to headaches from these incidents, although the U.S. government has not pinpointed the perpetrators or origins of the maladies. The Trump administration, though, holds the Cuban government responsible for the incidents.

One analyst told Skift he believes the issuance of the travel warning is a way to put pressure on the Cuban government to resolve the situation or mitigate the possibility of future incidents.


JetBlue immediately changed its approach to Cuba — at least temporarily.

“Due to the travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State for travel to Cuba, JetBlue will waive change/cancel fees for customers with reservations booked on or before September 29, 2017,” the airline announced. “Changes may be made through November 1, 2017. Full details here.

Royal Caribbean Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises had this to say about the U.S. warning on Cuba travel: “We are aware that U.S. Embassy has published a travel warning for Cuba. Since the warning is due to the events that occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens, we do not feel they pose a risk to our cruise passengers. Our guests explore Havana on escorted tours and do not visit hotels. We will continue to monitor the situation and will review any additional information that may be released.”

Norwegian Cruise Line

Vanessa Picariello, a spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Line said the line’s “cruises to Havana continue to operate as scheduled. The safety and security of our guests and crew is always our first priority and we continue to maintain the highest security standards as we do in all ports of call.

“There have been no reported incidents involving tourists or other cruise ship passengers. Reported incidents have been isolated to diplomats and government officials residing on the island. Our shore excursions and tour locations have been thoroughly evaluated and none are military owned or operated. The visa issuing process for our guests remains unchanged.

“We continue to believe that the best way to travel to Cuba is via cruise ship and look forward to continuing to offer our guests the opportunity to explore Cuba’s beauty, culture and friendly people.”

American Airlines

American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said there has been “no adjustment to our Cuba service on account of developments today.”

American currently flies nine daily flights to five destinations in Cuba, including four from Miami to Havana, one from Charlotte to Havana, and one each from Miami to Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero.

Miller said several weeks ago American applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for additional frequencies from Miami to Cuba. He added that Miami is best-suited to capture travel demand from the U.S. to Cuba because more than 50 percent of Cuban-Americans reside in Miami-Dade County.

American’s application to the Department of Transportation is unaffected by Friday’s State Department announcement, he said.


Asked to react to the State Department travel warning to Cuba, Nick Papas, director of public affairs public relations at Airbnb stated:

“We always advise our hosts and guests to check for any travel warnings or travel advisories that may apply to their plans. We encourage Americans with plans to travel to Cuba to review the latest updates from the State Department. Consistent with US law, our operations in Cuba will continue — hosts will continue to have the chance to offer their homes and experiences to guests visiting the island. Additional safety tips can be found here.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

Text of the State Department Cuba Travel Warning

Here’s the full text of the warning, which was issued Friday:

“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba. Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks. These employees have suffered significant injuries as a consequence of these attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.

“The Governments of the United States and Cuba have not yet identified the responsible party, but the Government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel and U.S. citizens in Cuba. Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba. Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens. On September 29, the Department ordered the departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees and their family members to protect the safety of our personnel.

“Due to the drawdown in staff, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens. The Embassy will provide only emergency services to U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens in Cuba in need of emergency assistance should contact the Embassy by telephone at +(53)(7) 839-4100 or the Department of State at 1-202-501-4444. U.S. citizens should not attempt to go to the U.S. Embassy as it suffered severe flood damage during Hurricane Irma.

“Travelers should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their travel agency and hotel staff.

“For further information:

“Visit the Embassy Havana website for the latest messages to U.S. citizens and other information related to Embassy operations.

“See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information for Cuba.

“Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest security updates and make it easier for the nearest U.S. Embassy to locate you in an emergency.

“Follow the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Twitter @USEmbCuba and Facebook and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebook.”


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Tags: cuba, cuba travel, travel warnings, trump

Photo credit: The U.S. flag flies at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, August 14, 2015. The U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens on September 29, 2017 not to visit Cuba. Yander Zamora / Reuters

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