New Cuba travel restrictions. TripAdvisor hotel safety alerts

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the August 2019 issue.

Karen Wagner (right) shared copies of ITN with passengers on the Eurodam.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 522nd issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one our subscribers — you! — help write.

Speaking of subscribers, during a round-trip cruise to the Mexican Riviera on Holland America Line’s Eurodam in November-December 2018, Karen Wagner of Monarch Beach, California, attended a Cruisecritic.com Roll Call meet-and-greet organized by another passenger.

She wrote, “I just asked for some time at the meeting to make an announcement and pass something around.” She then told passengers about ITN and handed out copies of the magazine that she had requested for that purpose.

“There were about 70 people at the meet-and-greet, and the copies were snapped up quickly,” she wrote. “As my husband and I were going from San Juan Capistrano to San Diego by train and boarding the ship there, it was easy to take a big stack of ITNs along.

“I also handed out ITNs on a Holland America Zuiderdam cruise from Copenhagen to New York City in August 2018. On that cruise I could have passed out 100, as the meet-and-greet was huge and everyone wanted a copy.”

Karen then added, “Now, this is a secret. We have managed to pick up wonderful specials in the first week of December. I have been told several times by companies we’ve booked with that that’s their least-booked week of the year. It would seem to be true, as there have been little or no crowds at tourist-impacted sites.

“In 2007 we went to Beijing the first week of December for $950 per person, including air from LAX, hotel and several excursions. The hotel even upgraded us to the honeymoon suite since it was our anniversary. The first snowfall of winter occurred on our first day. Great trip! Great bargain!”

The more travelers who know about ITN, the more travel reports we’ll have to print. To help pass out back issues of ITN, contact us well in advance and tell us how many you’d like and where to send them. Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818.

Another option and just as helpful — Karen also collected the names and addresses of fellow tour members on an ElderTreks tour of Vietnam this February-March and sent the list to ITN so we could send each a free sample copy of the next-printed issue.

Whatever gets the word out!

And thank you, Karen.

Let’s turn to the news.

On June 4, the US Department of the Treasury announced more severe travel restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba. These included ending the “People-to-People Travel” category of license and banning US-based cruise lines from making port stops.

Those who, at the time of the ruling, had already booked guided programs to Cuba based on a People-to-People license are still being allowed to complete their trips. There also remain 11 license categories under which travel to Cuba is allowed, and, at press time, US-based airlines still were being allowed to fly American travelers to Cuba.

US-based cruise companies, however, were forced to immediately cancel all Cuban port calls, even those scheduled to take place just days after the announcement was made.

Having to substitute other Caribbean ports at the last minute, many cruise lines chose to offer each guest the option of canceling his or her cruise and receiving a full refund or continuing on the cruise and getting a partial refund (though the cruise lines were under no legal obligation to offer either option).

For decades, the People-to-People Travel category of license was the one most often used by US citizens, as it was under that license that many US-based tour companies operated guided tours to Cuba. After the Obama administration allowed cruise ships to dock at Cuban ports and the passengers to go ashore so long as they partook of activities authorized under one of the license categories, visiting by cruise ship became popular.

Americans still can visit Cuba under the license category of Support for the Cuban People Travel, and that category can be fulfilled simply by staying in private homes, patronizing private shops or restaurants or engaging with musicians, artists, food vendors or other independent entrepreneurs.

Basically, as long as an American visitor’s money is going to private Cuban citizens and NOT to the Cuban government or its armed forces, he or she will be in compliance with the restrictions set by the US government.

It is important for visitors to each keep a journal of their activities in Cuba, which authorities may ask to see upon their reentry into the US, and to retain it for five years in case proof is needed later.

Just remember that the US government never considers “tourism” to be a legal reason to visit Cuba. Currently, the purpose for being there most commonly cited by travelers is Support for the Cuban People.

Something to watch for —

Among other services offered on the highly utilized TripAdvisor website (www.tripadvisor.com), travelers can read reviews from other travelers about a variety of hotels, restaurants and attractions worldwide. In the case of hotels, travelers can also book rooms right on the website.

After a number of high-profile incidents involving properties listed on its website, on May 14 TripAdvisor added a “safety” notification to any property listing in which a user review, posted within the last year, has indicated a safety issue at that property. Types of incidents that will earn a notice include physical and/or sexual assault, robbery, drug use, sex trafficking and someone having died.

If any such incident is mentioned in any of the travelers’ reviews of the property, the heading “Traveler safety” will be added to the “Reviews” section of the property listing, and when a user clicks on that heading, he will be taken directly to a page showing all of the property’s reviews that allude to safety issues.

In addition, when a user is browsing through the reviews of a property, each review that includes a safety issue will be tagged at the top with the notice, “This review may contain information about traveler safety at this business.”

TripAdvisor does not guarantee the veracity of any review. It does allow businesses to respond to negative reviews, including those that involve safety incidents.

If the words “Traveler safety” do not appear in the “Reviews” section header, then that property has not had a safety issue reported on the website within the last year. However, it still may have had safety issues reported more than a year before.

CORRECTION to note —

 

In the letter “Tokyo on a Budget” (April ’19, pg. 14), Bill O’Connell gave step-by-step instructions for duplicating his trip to Japan. They included, “At the end of your stay [in Tokyo], when you’re back on board those two trains for the airport, be sure to get off at the Narita Terminal No. 2 stop (not No. 1).”

Jane B. Holt of Hinesburg, Vermont, wrote, “Mr. O’Connell was mistaken. Since he was flying United Airlines, which he mentioned, he would have needed to get off the train at Terminal 1, which is the terminal for, among other airlines, United. Terminal 1 is the last stop, while Terminal 2 is the next-to-last stop and is not for flights on United.”

ITN called Bill, who confirmed that, returning from Tokyo, it was at the last stop that he had gotten off the train at Narita International.

Jane added, “Mr. O’Connell suggested using the Keisei Narita Airport Line to get to the hotel he stayed at. Lots of different types of Keisei trains run from Narita into Tokyo, with different schedules, amenities and prices. This website is helpful: tokyocheapo.com/travel/keisei-line-from-narita.

“Of course, depending on where you’re coming from in Tokyo, the Narita Express (N’EX) may work better for you, especially if you still have an unexpired Japan Rail Pass, which will entitle you to reserve your seat for free (www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex).”

 

Those of you who receive only the Online edition of ITN ($15 a year. A bargain!) will have received an email — and now will receive an email once a month — informing you that the latest edition of ITN has been posted. That event happens on the 1st of each month, but some of you have let us know that a reminder would be appreciated. Done!

Speaking of reminders, remember, if you’d like to pass out back issues of ITN to a group of travelers, let us know (in advance) how many you’d like and where to send them. Someone is sure to appreciate the gesture.

Barbara McMahon of Williamsburg, Virginia, wrote, “I love International Travel News. The fact that many of the articles are written by the subscribers makes all of us subscribers feel like one connected group, helping each other toward better travel experiences.”

Having travelers share their discoveries, experiences and opinions is the purpose of this magazine, Barbara, and we hope all our subscribers tell others about ITN because the more, the merrier!

** A CLARIFICATION —
After announcing that it was ending the “People-to-People Travel” category of license for Americans traveling to Cuba, though it was still allowing travel under the “Support for the Cuban People Travel” category (as I reported last month), the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department clarified that American visitors to Cuba are not restricted to lodging only in private homes (casas particulares) but can also still stay in hotels, so long as they are not on the
list of establishments banned by the US Department of State because they are owned by the Cuban government or military.
Further, tour operators that were running tours to Cuba under the People-to-People license now are operating under the Support for the Cuban People license, and almost all are continuing to use hotels, just not establishments on the Cuba Restricted List (visit www.state.gov/cuba-sanctions/cuba-restricted-list).