Trump’s Cuba policy hurts private sector, new figures say

- Associated Press, HAVANA

Jan 16, 2019-

President Donald Trump’s Cuba policy is driving hundreds of millions of dollars from the island’s private entrepreneurs to its military-controlled tourism sector, the opposite of its supposed goal, new statistics say.

Trump announced in June 2017 that he was tightening limits on US travel to Cuba in order to starve military-linked travel businesses and funnel money directly to the Cuban people.

He restricted Americans’ ability to travel to Cuba on their own, rather than with a tour group. At the same time, he allowed US cruise lines to continue to take passengers to Cuba, where they pay millions to disembark at military-run docks and make quick trips onshore that are generally coordinated by government tour agencies that steer travellers to state-run destinations.

Cuban government figures from the first full year under Trump’s policy show occupancy of private bed-and-breakfasts in Havana plunged to 44 percent in 2018 after years at near capacity in the wake of President Barack Obama’s start of normalisation with Cuba, said Michael Bernal, commercial director for the Ministry of Tourism.

Even as the private sector suffered, US travel to Cuba was growing, from 618,000 in 2017 to 630,000 last year, Tourism Ministry figures say. Most of those travellers came by ship, avoiding the confusing rules on travel to the island with package tours that are guaranteed to comply with the law.

The shift to cruises meant the average US stay on the island dropped from six days to three, said Jose Luis Perello, a former University of Havana professor who studies Cuba’s tourism industry.

That has had a devastating effect on owners and employees of Cuba’s 24,185 private bed-and-breakfasts and 2,170 private restaurants. They cherished US travellers as heavy tippers who crammed days full of activities like classic car rides and cooking classes that put money into private hands.

The number of US travellers to Cuba grew from 162,000 in 2015, the year after Obama and then Cuban President Raul Castro announced detente, to 284,000 in 2016 and 618,000 in 2017.

The overall number of travellers grew, too, from 3.5 million in 2015 to 3.7 million in 2016, 4.3 million in 2017 and 4.7 million last year.

Published: 16-01-2019 09:18

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