Last updated: 04:17 PM ET, Mon November 21 2016

ASTA Urges Trump Administration to Keep Cuba Open For Travel

Destination & Tourism Robin Amster November 21, 2016

ASTA Urges Trump Administration to Keep Cuba Open For Travel

Photo by David Cogswell

ASTA is urging President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration to retain recently-enacted regulations that have eased American travel to Cuba.

In a letter to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, ASTA President Zane Kerby wrote:

“We view the Administration’s [President Obama’s administration] recent actions on Cuba travel as a step in the right direction and support lifting the statutory ‘travel ban’ once and for all. Lifting the ban will also bring follow-on economic benefits to Cuba’s neighbors and the travel industry that serves them by sparking demand for new air and sea passenger routes, tour operations, and travel agent services.”

ASTA’s position contrasts with President-Elect Trump’s ambivalence on Cuba at best, and his outright opposition at worst.

Early in the campaign, Trump seemed to be saying he was not opposed to opening up Cuba but in mid-October, he tweeted: "The people of Cuba have struggled too long. . . . Will reverse Obama's Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored."

The Obama Administration in January 2015 took several actions following the President’s Executive Order to ease relations with Cuba. This led to loosening long-standing restrictions on trade between the U.S. and Cuba, including those that have barred American citizens from traveling to the island nation.

New regulations from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allowed for expanded travel in the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized under current law, and gave travel providers the ability to book authorized travel to Cuba without the need for an OFAC license.

The Department of Transportation later authorized eight U.S. airlines to launch service between the U.S. and Cuba.

Specifically, ASTA’s letter asks the Trump administration to retain current OFAC regulations on Cuba. The association also reiterated its call for enactment of The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act which would repeal all provisions of law relating to Americans ability to travel to Cuba.

Eben Peck, ASTA’s senior vice president of government and industry affairs, said yesterday that, "ASTA has long believed that allowing Americans to travel across the globe without restriction enables them to act as ambassadors of freedom.

“We pledge to do all we can in conjunction with the new Administration, Congress and key allies to ensure that Americans are free to travel to Cuba without constraint from their own government."A

And while the letter to Pence outlines ASTA’s stand on other “critical policy issues”—including Department of Labor overtime rules, customer service standards for travel agents, and the Visa Waiver Program—Cuba is a particular concern, said Erika Richter, ASTA director of communications.

Any reversal of regulations easing travel to Cuba will be a complex matter because, “It’s much more complicated than simply reversing the executive orders,” Richter said.

“The changes under the Obama Administration have led to new business licensing and new commercial flights, along with the corresponding regulatory improvements led by various government agencies,” she added.  

“The repercussions are simply much bigger than preventing tourism.”

Cuba will be a major issue at ASTA’s inaugural Capitol Summit, slated for June 4 to 7 in Washington D.C., said Richter

The event’s predecessor is ASTA’s annual Legislative Day which brought agents to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators and advocate for travel agent and industry issues.

The new Capitol Summit combines Legislative Day with ASTA’s Premium Business Summit, Corporate Advisory Council (CAC), ASTA Board of Directors, and ASTA Chapter Presidents Council.

Last year’s Legislative Day drew 55 agents, said Richter. Attendance at the Capitol Summit is expected to be twice that.