Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Implications of the 2016 American Election on Cuban Tourism

October 22, 2016

Team Leader – Mary Peplinski

Primary Contributor- Adam Lencz

Keywords: Obama Administration, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump

Since the Obama administration announced it would begin normalizing relations with Cuba in late 2014, some important progress has been made towards allowing Americans to freely travel to Cuba. In 2015, American relations with Cuba were repaired further as both nations decided to open embassies. Some restrictions on American travel were also lifted in 2015, and at the end of May it was reported that the number of Americans with no family ties to Cuba who visited the island saw a 36 percent increase compared to 2014. With this news, some Cuban resorts and hotels have started marketing towards American travellers. Although Americans are still technically prohibited from travelling to Cuba as tourists, there is little enforcement of the law under the Obama administration. While increased American presence in Cuba provides great opportunities for tourism on the island, the result of the upcoming American election could have a major impact on the industry.  

Former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton has outlined a policy in regards to Cuba that would generally carry on the legacy of President Obama. Clinton has praised the steps Obama has taken to normalize relations with Cuba, and plans to make additional changes as president. In a speech in January 2016, she stated that she will work with congress to lift the embargo, and to help more Americans travel to Cuba. She additionally stated that if needed, she would use executive authority in order to achieve these goals, arguing that Americans visiting the island would be supporting Cuban businesses. If Clinton is able to implement these policies Cuban hotels, restaurants, beaches, and shops would all see increased use with more visitors. Although she acknowledges that there are still challenges in Cuba surrounding human rights, Clinton seems confident in this policy, a positive sign for Cuba’s tourism industry.

Where Secretary Clinton would likely add to the policies implemented by the Obama administration, Republican nominee Donald Trump would like to reverse them entirely. Although his policy towards Cuba has been unclear for much of his campaign, Trump recently tweeted that he would “reverse Obama’s Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored.” Not only would Trump stop any further progress towards normalizing relations with Cuba, it seems he would attempt to take relations back to a pre-2014 level. Presumably there would be greater enforcement of travel restrictions under such a plan, which could completely reverse the surge in American visits to Cuba, potentially causing a major setback for the tourism industry. America’s largest hotel, airline and cruise companies all launched operations in Cuba this year, but if Obama’s policies are reversed, these operations could have trouble getting off the ground. It should be noted that there is far more uncertainty over the policy of Trump than that of Clinton, as Trump had previously stated that Obama’s dealings with Cuba were “fine”.

Although Trump insists he will reverse the policy set forth by Obama, it is unclear whether or not it would actually be possible. Perhaps seeing what Donald Trump is planning, the Obama administration has moved to make its Cuban policies “irreversible” in a new presidential directive announced on October 14th. The directive outlines “priority objectives for normalization” and would make reversing Obama’s policies towards Cuba very difficult. With his term drawing to a close in just months, this directive may be the final Cuban policy decision of Obama’s presidency.