Until a few weeks ago, travel restrictions to Cuba were looser than they’ve ever been, thanks to President Obama’s 2011 policy allowing tour companies to apply for travel licenses for “people-to-people” educational and cultural trips. But that’s all come to a halt now that the one bank responsible for processing these visas—M&T Bank in Buffalo, New York—has decided to stop offering its services to diplomatic missions. As of yet, no replacement bank has been found, despite efforts from both sides.
A statement released by Cuban Interests Section, the country’s diplomatic mission in Washington, says, “In spite of the huge efforts made, as a result of the restrictions in force, derived from the policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade by the U.S. government against Cuba, it has been impossible for the Interests Section to find a U.S.-based bank that could operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions.” The Cuban Interests Section notes that consular services will continue for humanitarian travel.
How will this affect tour operators that currently offer “people-to-people” visits? So far, it's business as usual. Keith Baron, Senior Vice President of Abercrombie & Kent USA—which launched a new program to Cuba marketed to U.S. travelers last September—says, “We have visas in hand for our upcoming departures and are hopeful that the situation will be resolved soon.”
Brooke Porter Katz is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.