Trump Cuba Crackdown Brings Surprising Windfall to Cruise Lines

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(Bloomberg) -- In the months after Donald Trump was elected, cruise lines fretted that the new president would kill their nascent business to Cuba.

Barack Obama had eased travel restrictions to the communist country, and Trump was now vowing to reverse the move -- something that would jeopardize a promising growth opportunity for the industry.

But then a funny thing happened: When the administration went ahead and imposed new rules on Cuba tourism in November, it did so in a way that actually helped cruise lines.

The changes limited trips to groups approved by the U.S. Treasury Department -- a designation that the cruise lines had already received. And the rules banned business at a number of Cuban hotels and restaurants with links to the government. That created an ideal situation for cruise ships, which provide food and lodging on board.

The result has been a boom for the industry. Carnival Corp., Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings Ltd. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. have all added trips to the Caribbean island since Trump announced the new restrictions.

On Thursday, Carnival, the world’s largest operator, announced 23 new sailings to Cuba on five ships, including the largest ever to call on Havana: the 3,000-passenger Carnival Sunshine. The company also added Charleston, South Carolina, as a new departure city.

“Cuba has proven to be extremely popular with our guests and we’re delighted to provide even more opportunities to experience and explore this fascinating destination,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said in a statement.

The cruises offer 20 shore excursions in Cuba, including touring architectural landmarks, while complying with federal regulations, Carnival says. And passengers who stay on board can get their own taste of Cuba. There are salsa lessons, Havana-inspired deck parties and an expert versed in “the country’s rich history and culture.”

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