News, guidance, and resources for group travel planners

The Holbrook Insider


Cuba Travel:  The Latest News on Safety, Rules, and Embassy Staffing

Mar 23, 2018 |


| by Christopher Bensley

“Travel to Cuba is both safe and legal.” 
– Rich Shea, The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST)

Travel planners have been unclear on whether it is safe and legal to send travelers to Cuba since the news last fall of mysterious health symptoms at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Thanks to research and work by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and a coalition of leading tour operators, the answer is yes to both issues. This was the message at last week’s webinar hosted by Holbrook, “Understanding the Latest Guidelines in Cuba.”

March 2018 Developments

But does the news from Washington confuse you? It may be deliberate. On March 2, despite the data collected by CREST that reported no instances of such health issues from more than 43,000 U.S. citizens that tour operators sent to Cuba, the State Department reported it would not re-staff the Embassy or change the travel advisory. However, the reduced staffing will not affect essential services to U.S. tourists visiting Cuba.

The Facts on Cuba – CREST “Toolkit”

Although the coalition’s appeal to reduce the warning level to at least a 2 has not been granted, efforts continue to change this rating. To help with educating the general public and specifically travelers wanting to go to Cuba, CREST has issued a “toolkit.” Key points include:

  • Travel to Cuba is safe: There are no confirmed cases of other visitors (private citizens) having been harmed.

  • The U.S. is the only country in the world that restricts its citizens from traveling to Cuba.

  • Groups of all sizes can still travel to Cuba under the “people-to-people” category.

  • Individual travel to Cuba is allowed in almost all of the 12 general license categories of travel.

  • One category—individual “people-to-people exchanges”—has been eliminated.

To view the complete CREST Advocacy Toolkit, click here: U.S. Travel to Cuba: Setting the Record Straight

Understanding the Guidelines

Tour operators, including Holbrook, have reported from their recent travelers that their travel to Cuba has been not only safe but thoroughly enjoyable and educational. But how do travelers ensure they’re traveling legally? Many people do not understand what the regulations mean and how they have changed. Summary points from the webinar:

  • On November 9, 2017, the Trump Administration enacted the new OFAC policy regarding Cuba.

  • The new policy still allows the same 12 general license categories for legal travel to Cuba including “People to People Exchanges.” This means the trip must include a full-time schedule of activities and meaningful engagements with the Cuban people.

  • One important difference is that trips can no longer can be undertaken individually without a sponsoring organization. To travel as an individual, you need a US sponsor, and the trip needs to have meaningful educational exchange.

To understand fully, you can call Holbrook or replay the webinar here:

Below are links to the toolkit and articles referenced in the webinar:

Why go to Cuba now?

In addition to the many natural wonders, historical relics, and cultural facets that make a trip life-changing for visitors, many U.S. citizens believe we have a responsibility to support the Cuban people. People-to-people exchanges unite people and help us gain further understanding. Tour operators report that travel to Cuba has recently increased from a sharp decline this past year after the change in policy. Holbook Travel is committed to supporting safe and legal Cuba travel.

To learn about Holbrook’s Cuba travel opportunities, visit

To learn more about the Center for Responsible Travel and its initiatives, visit


photo by Kate Perez