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Summer developments mean U.S.-Cuba travel is warming

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posted October 1, 2018
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In August 2018, the United States Department of State lowered its travel advisory on Cuba from Level 3 (“reconsider travel”) to Level 2 (“exercise increased caution”). The island now shares this status with multiple tourism-heavy countries such as the Bahamas, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and China.

The State Department says this shift is a product of a recently concluded review of potential risks to private U.S. citizens traveling to the island. The thorough review was undertaken in response to suspected attacks that began in 2016 and caused auditory and sensory symptoms for multiple Canadian and U.S. embassy employees. 

According to the report, attacks targeted residences of U.S. embassy staff and government personnel only, and those affected did not include private travelers. While the State Department has indicated that it does not yet know the exact methods or source of the attacks on U.S. personnel, investigators do not believe there is any immediate danger to American citizens traveling to Cuba, so the country was switched to Level 2.

The travel industry initially expressed hope that this announcement would increase the number of American visitors to Cuba. The country has seen a steep decline in tourism following tightened restrictions and elevated concern about travel to the island last year. According to Michel Bernal, commercial director for the Cuban Tourism Ministry, in April the number of U.S. visitors was only 56.6 percent of what it was in April 2017. While the State Department’s announcement does not impact any restrictions on travel to Cuba, pro-Cuba travel advocates are lauding it as a great first step toward restoring the island’s economically essential tourism sector.

In addition to the State Department’s reduced warning, there have been two other positive, tourism-related steps for the island within the last two months. The U.S. embassy in Havana issued a press release in late August informing the public that the embassy has “resumed offering a full range of American Citizen Services, including passport renewals, first-time passport applications, notary services, authentication services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Cuba.” These services are significant to Americans residing in Cuba and for U.S. travelers and tourists visiting the island. 

On Aug. 14, the Cuban government ran a free Wi-Fi trial, which included hundreds of hot spots around the country, in advance of plans to sell the service through a state-owned monopoly. This marked the first time that internet sales were available nationwide. 

While internet access has been available at hotels on the island for quite some time, this island-wide rollout will help build and maintain a robust tourism infrastructure; keep U.S. travelers connected while they explore, dine and travel around the island; and give them access to important safety resources.

Any American considering travel to Cuba should still exercise caution and use good judgment. The State Department implores U.S. travelers to still avoid two specific hotels in Havana—the Hotel Nacional de Cuba and the Hotel Capri—and to relocate immediately if they experience any auditory or sensory phenomena. For more important information on precautions to take and helpful resources when traveling to Cuba, please visit the travel advisory page for the island on the U.S. State Department’s website: bit.ly/2tTNVoq.

Top photo by DepositPhotos/Ruth Black