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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)

Next Story

Border Security Bill: Debate Furies Over U.S. Presidential “Emergency Powers”

Well it's clear one side is losing and that's the American public, and particularly the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not being paid or who are not going to work. In terms of the political actors, you know, the polling that we have suggests that most Americans blame President Trump for the shutdown.

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent rides a vehicle on the beach in San Diego, Jan. 9, 2019, seen through the border wall from Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a border security bill, averting a government shutdown on Friday, but plans to formally declare the southern U.S. border a “national emergency,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

The declaration would clear the way for Trump to authorize new funding for a permanent physical barrier. The move would end contentious negotiations with Congress over funding for the wall, but some legal analysts worry it will set a dangerous precedent for presidents trying to negotiate with Congress.

In January, during a 35-day partial government shutdown caused by a dispute over border wall funding, VOA spoke with John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at The Brooking Institute, about the legal issues around a possible emergency declaration by the president.

QUESTION: What powers does a president have to declare a national emergency? Could he simply order government funds to be used to build a border wall?

So there are really two questions here. First, under the national emergencies act, the president has a fairly broad power to declare a national emergency. Now the declaration of that emergency is simply that — a declaration. And according to a pretty firm reading of that law, it’s hard to see where there is an exception to the president’s ability to do it.

Donald Trump
In terms of the political actors, you know, the polling that we have suggests that most Americans blame President Trump for the shutdown. Pixabay

The next part of that, though, involves the powers that the president can exercise under that law and there are obvious limitations on that, constitutional limitations and other limitations within the law that the president can’t violate. And unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we haven’t experienced serious questions about presidential power in this space. So it’s really left as an open question right now, in terms of the extent of presidential power that courts will need to sort out.

Q: Could Democrats block this in Congress? Is there any constitutional precedent for presidents simply going around Congress to fund a priority policy item?

So there is, within the law, the ability of Congress to stop a national emergency. It requires both houses of Congress to vote to say that the national emergency is over. Now democrats can certainly do that alone, in the House. They cannot, however, do it alone in the Senate, it would require several Republican votes.

However, this is the type of exercise of executive power that leaves a lot of Republicans uneasy. And you’re already starting to see those conversations among Senate Republicans, saying that if we’re all right with President Trump doing this over a border wall, would we also be all right with a Democratic president doing this over climate change or other issues?

And so I think it remains to be seen whether Congress will have the votes to stop presidential action in this area, whether they’ll have the political will to do it. But they certainly have the power to stop this type of behavior.

To the second part of your question, you know, presidents have tried to go around Congress in terms of spending money in the past or even moving money around within or across budget lines or accounts in the past.

And frequently presidents are stopped because the spending power in the constitution rests with the Congress and so this creates a real challenge for President Trump if he wants to start moving funds or re-appropriating funds or using funds that are not even appropriated, pushing up against that constitutional protection against that power. So he might have the power to declare a national emergency, but he cannot usurp the Constitution in the exercise of powers during that emergency.

The entrance to the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art is padlocked as a partial government shutdown continues, in Washington, U.S., Jan. 7, 2019.
The entrance to the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art is padlocked as a partial government shutdown continues, in Washington, U.S., Jan. 7, 2019. VOA

Q: On the politics of the current shutdown, is one side or the other winning? Which sides appears to have an advantage at the moment? How does it end?

Well it’s clear one side is losing and that’s the American public, and particularly the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not being paid or who are not going to work. In terms of the political actors, you know, the polling that we have suggests that most Americans blame President Trump for the shutdown.

Also Read: Is 2020 U.S. Presidential Election Going To Be The Costliest In History?

A smaller percentage of Americans blame congressional Democrats and smaller still blame congressional Republicans. I think a lot of Americans look at this skeptically and say, “What has changed between the beginning of the president’s term and now that makes this such a dire emergency?” And I think it leaves a lot of Americans scratching their head. President Trump is playing to his base here, but unfortunately his base is a small percentage of the population. And most of the rest of the population is not with him on this issue of the wall. (VOA)