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Demand for Travel to Cuba Flattening with soaring Hotel Prices on the Island: New Travel Restrictions likely to be imposed when Donald Trump takes Office

Gregory Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, a tour company that's taken 3,000 Americans to Cuba, confirms there has been a softening in demand

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U.S. tourists walks outside the Bodeguita del Medio Bar frequented by the late American novelist Ernest Hemingway in Old Havana, Cuba, May 24, 2015. One airline's cutback in flights to Cuba may be a sign that demand for travel to the island is slowing down amid uncertainty about Donald Trump's Cuba policies along with a near-doubling of Havana hotel prices and concerns over Zika, VOA

Dec 8, 2016: Demand for travel to Cuba may be flattening, with soaring hotel prices on the island, American Airlines cutting some flights, and uncertainty over whether new travel restrictions could be imposed when Donald Trump takes office.

Gregory Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, a tour company that’s taken 3,000 Americans to Cuba, confirms there has been a softening in demand.

In part he blamed hotel prices on the island, which have nearly doubled since 2015 and which are set by the government.

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“There’s still demand but there’s only so much people can afford,” he said. Cheaper lodging is available through Airbnb and other services, but not all travelers want the hassles and uncertainty of traveling on their own in Cuba.

“Zika has cast a shadow”

Geronemus said “Zika has cast a shadow” on the region too, despite the Cuban government’s assertion that mosquito abatement efforts have been successful. Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, can cause birth defects.

While an increasing number of airlines are offering flights, American Airlines is cutting three of its 13 daily flights to Cuba beginning February 16 and switching to smaller planes on some routes, said spokesman Matt Miller. He added that adjustments are common with new service and that the reduction was made before the presidential election.

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ForwardKeys, which compiles data based on global reservations transactions, says it has not detected a drop in bookings for Cuba. And Cuban government statistics show an 80 percent increase in visits by Americans the first six months of this year over the same period in 2015, from 76,183 to 136,913.

U.S. airlines add flights

In the last few weeks, several U.S. airlines started regular commercial flights to Cuba. United Airlines launched Newark-Havana flights November 29 and Saturday service from Houston on December 3.

Spokesman Jonathan Guerin said the airline is “prepared to work with the new administration” going forward.

JetBlue, which also just launched service, would not provide specifics but said “we are pleased with how flights to Cuba are selling.”

Tanner Callais of Austin, Texas, who runs a cruise website called Cruzely.com, had hoped to cruise to Cuba in 2017.

But “now with some of the things I’ve heard about tightening up restrictions on travel to Cuba, we’re taking a wait and see approach,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is put a lot of money down for a trip and then have the cruise cancelled due to new restrictions put in place.”

Travel ban a concern

Others are booking trips as soon as they can, fearing a Cuba travel ban under Trump.

“Ordinarily we book trips three to six months ahead but people are calling this week to register for trips three weeks from now,” said Kimberly Haley-Coleman, executive director of GlobeAware, which organizes volunteer trips.

Though Geronemus says the softening started “long before Trump was elected,” some travelers are asking for reassurance that they’d be covered if travel gets banned between the time they book their tickets and their planned trip. That has smarTours promising a full refund or credit for a discounted trip elsewhere should new rules make it impossible to go ahead with a trip, Geronemus says.

Trump’s plan unsure

Erika Richter, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Agents, says “some people we talk to are convinced that everything will be rolled back on January 21. Others think, as a hospitality industry leader, [Trump] will not follow through. So, I think it’s probable but not guaranteed that we see a roll back in early 2017.”

But what Trump has in mind for Cuba is unclear. Three days after Fidel Castro’s death, the president-elect tweeted: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

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Some critics believe the Obama administration should have held out for democratic and human rights reforms as part of the loosening of travel restrictions. But others think that stimulating Cuba’s economy through travel — including inroads by U.S. cruise, hotel and tour companies there — is the best way to bring change.

Cruise lines headed to Cuba

On Wednesday, two U.S. cruise companies, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean International received permission from the Cuban government to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. In May, Carnival Corp. became the first U.S. company in decades to run cruises to Cuba.

Haley-Coleman thinks the most likely scenario is a return to strict enforcement of rules for permitted types of trips. Even under President Obama, Americans can’t go to Cuba as regular tourists. They have to certify that their trip falls into one of 12 permitted categories, including educational, humanitarian or cultural travel.

Right now, though, that certification is done on the honor system.

Haley-Coleman thinks Trump may require itineraries be pre-approved to ensure Americans are not just drinking mojitos on the beach.

Also Wednesday, a group of Cuban entrepreneurs traveled to Washington to deliver a letter asking Trump to support increased U.S. travel, trade and investment with Cuba. As owners of restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and other businesses, they said that continued engagement with the U.S. is essential for progress and growth on the island.  (VOA)

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We Got Trump Elected, Shouldn’t Stop Him in 2020; Says Facebook Executive

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day

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FILE - President Donald Trump departs after speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House July 17, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Facebook Vice President Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth has claimed that it was the social networking giant that got Donald Trump elected as the US President in 2016 because “he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser”.

In a memo obtained by The New York Times, the key Facebook executive in the same vein suggested that the platform with over 2.45 billion monthly active users should not use its enormous reach to block Trump’s reelection in 2020.

Was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?

“I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period”, said Bosworth who runs Facebook’s hardware group.

“Trump just did unbelievable work,” Bosworth wrote.

“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t micro-targeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each persona.

He continued: “I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment”.

Donald Trump
Official portrait of President Donald J. Trump. Wikimedia Commons

“Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial (Galadriel) and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her,” he wrote.

“As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

“To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary,” he tried to clarify his stand.

Bosworth said that it is worth reminding everyone that Russian interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising.

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“$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms),” he wrote.

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day.

“Misinformation was also real and related but not the same as Russian interference,” Bosworth mentioned, admitting that Cambridge Analytica was one of the more acute cases where the details were almost all wrong. (IANS)