At a Havana meeting of the Responsible Ethical Cuba Travel (RESPECT) association made up mainly of U.S. travel and tour groups, the news of a U.S. travel warning was met with strong opposition and concern.
The State Department updated its warning for Cuba on Friday because “numerous U.S. Embassy [in] Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks.” Even though there are no reports of U.S. visitors being harmed, the State Department said American travelers could be harmed because “attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.” Cuba has repeatedly denied involvement in suspected sonic weapon attacks. Investigators have not yet determined who or what is behind the attacks.
“In terms of published information, this is a completely unjustified action,” said John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, based in Riverhead, N.Y. The State Department has never provided information about a sonic attack on any U.S. visitor, said the longtime U.S.-Cuba travel advocate. “Telling Americans not to come now is totally disproportionate.”
McAuliff forecast the travel warning will hurt U.S. travel to Cuba, because “people will get scared.” President Donald Trump’s June announcement of a more restrictive policy toward Cuba has already slowed American travel – even before the policy has been implemented and rules changed, said McAuliff.
Kasara Davidson, founder of Diaspora Travel and Trade of New York City, said the announcement puts her in damage control mode. “What this creates is worry, fear, concern and confusion about an already worrisome and confusing relationship and set of guidelines,” she said.
Davidson said some of her clients and other Americans may interpret the warning as a prohibition on U.S. travel to Cuba. But she’s hopeful that she and other travel leaders can clarify there is no ban nor any problem in traveling to the island.
The American Tour Operators of Cuba, an association representing more than 50 tour companies operating in Cuba, also criticized the travel warning. “Perhaps politically motivated, perhaps an overreaction of the situation, today’s Travel Warning unfairly sows fear and uncertainty, based on poor logic and evidence, and thus undermines the public’s confidence and trust in the U.S. Department of State,” the organization said in a statement.
More than 500,000 people from the United States have traveled to Cuba so far this year, Cuban officials told attendees at the RESPECT conference.
Doreen Hemlock contributed to this report from Havana.