Clients cancel trip to Cuba after US visa warning

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By Linsey McNeill
30/09/2022
Home » Clients cancel trip to Cuba after US visa warning

A UK travel agent has lost an £8k booking for a honeymoon to Cuba after her clients learned the US has placed restrictions on Brits who visit the former communist Caribbean island.

One of Donald Trump’s last acts as US President was to add Cuba to a US list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ on 11 January 2021, which means that Brits who visit Cuba won’t be eligible for an ESTA to visit the US.

Instead, they must apply for a US tourist visa, which costs $160. Not only that, but they must attend a face-to-face appointment at the US embassy in London or the consulate-general in Belfast.

An article in The Independent suggested that, due to a backlog caused by the pandemic, there are ‘significant delays’ in getting appointments. One travel agent said their client had been told there were no appointments available for tourist visas until next February.

A travel agent told Travel Gossip their clients had cancelled their honeymoon and New Year trip to Cuba when they became aware of the US restriction, which is flagged up on the home page of the official ESTA site.

The statement on the ESTA site says: “If a traveler is found to have visited a country designated as State Sponsor of Terrorism, the traveler is no longer eligible to participate in the Visa Wavier Program and must apply for a visa to enter the United States.”

However, it is unclear whether clients who have travelled to Cuba can still travel to the US on an ESTA if their application is approved, or if they will be turned away at the border. Some agents say their clients have successfully travelled on ESTAs despite having visited Cuba, but others say clients have been denied entry, even though their passports weren’t stamped in Cuba.

Danny Callaghan, CEO of Latin American travel association LATA described Trump’s decision to designate Cuba a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ alongside countries such as Syria and North Korea as ‘unfathomable’.

He added: “Whilst this will have some small impact on tourism to the US, the far bigger impact will be for Cuba and its beleaguered tourism economy, struggling to recover even as Hurricane Ian is sweeping across the island.”

Danny urged tourists to continue to travel to Cuba and ‘just forget about going to the USA, at least until they see sense and overturn this nonsensical Trump legacy’.

The visa rule also applies to tourists travelling to Cuba via US airports, but Danny said: “There are also plenty of alternatives to accessing Latin America without transiting through the USA, which tends not to be the preference of travellers anyway.”

Meanwhile, Cuba is attempting to restore power across the island after it was knocked out by Hurricane Ian.

Cuba specialist Captivating Cuba said the only area that appears to have suffered significant infrastructural damage is the western province of Pinar Del Rio, of which Vinales Valley is the famous part of the province and much visited by clients on tailormade itineraries around the island.

“Here we are aware of some structural damage to hotels and of course the local environment,” said Director Matthew O’Sullivan.

“However Cuba has an excellent record of ‘clean ups’ so we expect the situation to improve rapidly 

 “Havana, the beach resorts and other areas of Cuba were either not affected by the hurricane  or have only experienced minor and superficial damage, such as trees down, and the clean-up operation has already begun.

“The situation is stable in all these areas and today we have had clients on city tours, Old American car tours etc in Havana.”

Some of the main hotels have independent generators, so they have been able to source their own power. 

“We are hearing that now gradually power is being restored across the island and should be back operating in the next day or so,” added Matthew.

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