HAVANA – In the face of the restrictions and alerts that the Donald Trump administration has implemented regarding travel to Cuba, US tourism companies are firmly defending the island as a legal, safe and welcoming destination for US citizens.
About 20 tour operators, travel agencies, airlines and cruise companies this week participated in an event in Havana where they sought to become better acquainted with options for visiting the island from the US and dispelling the uncertainty caused by Trump’s recent measures designed to limit such excursions.
“Cuba remains a legal destination. There is a lot of confusion in the US market and we want to make clear that Cuba is safe and welcoming for Americans,” Tom Popper, the president of Insight Cuba, the pioneer tour operator in organizing travel to the island and the promoter of the event, told EFE.
Popper said that no US travelers had suffered any harm during their stays in Cuba, although the State Department on Monday announced that 19 US citizens had reported symptoms similar to those experienced by US diplomats who were the alleged victims of mysterious “attacks” in the Cuban capital, according to Washington.
Because of those purported attacks, the origin and perpetrators of which are unknown, the US in September issued a travel warning for trips to Cuba and withdrew almost all its personnel from its embassy in Havana.
According to an internal survey in Cuba, of the almost 4.7 million tourists the island welcomed in 2017 – a record – 95 percent were satisfied with their stay, 96 would recommend the destination and almost 40 are repeat travelers.
“Without doubt, the level of satisfaction among my customers who go to Cuba is much higher than in other places,” said Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet, an agency that also organizes trips from the US to other exotic destinations such as Cambodia, Bali, Dubai and Tanzania.
Amid this surge in tourism, the number of US visitors to Cuba reached a record high in 2017 – 619,777 – almost triple the number from one year ago and a figure proving the interest in exploring the island among Americans, who still cannot travel there as “tourists,” but may do so if their trip falls into one of 12 permitted categories.
However, several agencies confirmed to EFE that in the last quarter of 2017 US trips to Cuba dropped off by 50 percent compared to last year, a trend that has been maintained early this year and is due to the dissuasive effect of the White House’s restrictions announced last November.