Warn­ing may slow Tampa-Ha­vana travel

Tampa Bay Times - - Business - BY PAUL GUZZO Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — De­spite a prom­ise in June from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that he would im­pose stricter reg­u­la­tions on Cuba travel, the num­ber of peo­ple shut­tling by air and sea be­tween Tampa and Ha­vana has con­tin­ued to rise.

Still, as they’ve waited for the reg­u­la­tions to be­come of­fi­cial, lo­cal travel agents were jit­tery about the fu­ture for this new mar­ket.

One shoe fi­nally dropped Fri­day.

Cit­ing con­cerns about mys­te­ri­ous health prob­lems in­clud­ing brain in­jury and hear­ing loss by U.S. di­plo­mats in Ha­vana, the State De­part­ment warned Amer­i­cans against vis­it­ing the is­land and or­dered home more than half the per­son­nel at its newly reestab­lished em­bassy in Ha­vana.

“This is go­ing to hurt busi­ness,” said Frank Reno, pres­i­dent of Tampa’s Cuba Ex­ec­u­tive Travel. “Any time Amer­i­cans are warned not to go some­where — whether down­town Mi­ami or down­town Ha­vana — they stay away due to fear and anx­i­ety.”

One the­ory is that the health prob­lems arise from some type of covert at­tack — sonic weapons, per­haps.

The State De­part­ment says some of the at­tacks have oc­curred in Cuban ho­tels so Amer­i­can tourists might be ex­posed, though there’s no sign that has hap­pened yet.

“Let’s hope the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will shed some light on the source of these at­tacks and bring jus­tice for the com­pro­mised health of our di­plo­mats,” said Suzanne Carl­son, founder Tar­pon Springs’ Carl­son Mar­itime Travel.

But even if it does, some agents say, it could dampen the pentup in­ter­est in Cuba among Amer­i­cans de­nied the chance to travel there for decades.

“Ul­ti­mately, the de­ci­sion taken to­day by the State De­part­ment of the United States could only af­fect the Amer­i­can trav­el­ers . . . who in the last few years were dis­cov­er­ing an adorable and near Cuba in which they could feel safe,” said Vi­cente Amor, Cubaborn vice pres­i­dent of Tampa travel com­pany ASC In­ter­na­tional USA.

Who­ever is to blame, Amor added, it is clear to him that “this in­ci­dent has been de­signed to af­fect the travel and the gen­eral progress of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween U.S. and Cuba.”

Still, Tampa’s large CubanAmer­i­can pop­u­la­tion gives him con­fi­dence the Cuba travel mar­ket could con­tinue to grow. What’s more, he said, lo­cals will want to main­tain a role in im­prov­ing re­la­tions be­tween the na­tions.

The travel in­dus­try is still wait­ing for an­other shoe to drop: No reg­u­la­tions have yet been is­sued to fol­low up on two re­stric­tions Trump an­nounced in June.

One is that Amer­i­cans vis­it­ing Cuba for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses — the most pop­u­lar of 12 cat­e­gories of Cuba travel des­ig­nated un­der U.S. law — will not be al­lowed to travel on their own as they could be­fore but only in cer­ti­fied tour groups.

Un­der the other re­stric­tion, U.S. cit­i­zens will no longer be al­lowed to stay in ho­tels owned by the Cuban mil­i­tary, which

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.