UNWTO, WTTC weigh in on Trump's Cuba reversal

UNWTO, WTTC weigh in on Trump's Cuba reversal

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) are expressing disappointment with the Trump Administration's decision to restore travel restrictions with Cuba.

The June 16 announcement by Donald Trump will see several of former U.S. President Barack Obama's 2014 policies rolled back, including those related to U.S. tourism to the island.

“This represents a step backwards and a strong attack on the freedom of travel,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. “This decision will have limited impact on Cuba’s tourism development, yet it will substantially affect the US economy and American jobs. Many US companies have started to invest in and do business with Cuba in view of the immense potential of Cuban tourism, which other countries will surely continue to benefit from,“ he added.

According to UNWTO figures, Cuba received more than 4 million international visitors in 2016, a growth of over 1 million in only five years.

“The Cuban people are directly benefiting from increased business and leisure travel to Havana. Travel brings income to the people who work in our industry. President Trump’s statements indicate that the Cuban people, rather than the government will be hit by this policy change.” said David Scowsill, president & CEO, WTTC. “Airlines, cruise lines and hotel groups have all made significant investments and plans to create jobs and to grow the industry in Cuba, based on clear direction from the previous administration. Our sector needs consistency from governments and stability of policy. This is a clear and unwelcome reversal.”

According to the WTTC, Cuba is currently the second-most visited Caribbean island. Canadians and Europeans have steadily increased their numbers, with direct flights into various beach locations on the island. Visitor exports, which is money spent by foreign travellers in the country, totalled US$2.8 billion in 2016. This is 19.2 per cent of total exports - significantly above the global average of 6.6 per cent. Travel contributed almost $9 billion to the Cuban economy last year – or just under 10 per cent of the country’s GDP - supporting almost 500,000 jobs, which is about one in eleven of all jobs.

“There is latent demand from the US for people to visit Cuba to explore its history and culture, and it would be a retrograde step to revert once again to Americans traveling in groups. Over the last months the uptake in travel from the US to Cuba has not been as high as expected, primarily as hotel capacity has not kept up with the demand, leading to some of the US airlines cutting back capacity to the island. President Trump’s announcement will put further pressure on the airlines,” Scowsill continued.