Virgin Voyages boss baffled by Trump’s Cuba travel ban

"I don't know what is going through his mind" - Tom McAlpin on President Trump

The President of Virgin Voyages has slammed the President of the United States, saying the Trump Administration’s travel ban to Cuba imposed on Americans earlier this year makes no sense.

Cuba, and particularly Havana, was a core ingredient of Virgin Voyages’ maiden season in 2020. The start-up cruise line’s first ship, Scarlet Lady, will spend its first two seasons operating voyages to the Caribbean from Miami, and a variety of itineraries had been developed for Cuba.

Virgin Voyages President and CEO, Tom McAlpin | © LATTE
Virgin Voyages President and CEO, Tom McAlpin | © LATTE

Virgin Voyages CEO and President Tom McAlpin cringed at the topic of Cuba and President Donald Trump’s travel sanctions when questioned on the topic by LATTE at the recent CLIA Australasia Cruise360 conference.

“I was having such a good day until you brought it up,” McAlpin quipped during our exclusive interview.

The US Government’s decision resulted in most major cruise lines abandoning their increasingly popular Cuba cruises, including Virgin Voyages, with only a handful of non-US operators continuing to sail to the island destination. The travel ban lead to a string of future ‘sailor’ cancellations for Virgin, McAlpin confirmed.

“I don’t know what is going through his mind. It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said of Donald Trump.

The former Disney Cruise Line and The World president said he isn’t holding his breath for any change in Trump’s stance on the travel blockade on Cuba anytime soon.

“I don’t think anything will change while he’s in office, but I believe it will change when he’s out of office. We’re looking forward to that,” McAlpin remarked.

However, he said Virgin Voyages views Cuba as a “long term play”.

“We will back. We have great relations with the locals there.”

Virgin Voyages previously offered a Havana After Dark itinerary prior to the Trump Administration's travel ban to Cuba on US citizens.

McAlpin said the about-face on entry to Cuba for Americans was a loss to himself personally, but he remains optimistic that Virgin Voyages will be back.

“We didn’t lose a high percentage [of bookings]. People that book us aren’t booking just the destination. People are booking us because of the brand and the type of experience what we have,” the Virgin Voyages boss said.

McAlpin’s comments come as data released by the National Office of Statistic and Information for Cuba showed a 55% year-on-year decrease in US visitor arrivals for the month of June. Total international arrivals to Cuba from January to the end of June rose by around 60,000 visitors in 2019, to 2.56 million, up about 2.4%.

That positive trajectory has however now dipped in July, with some 30,000 less international visitors recorded entering Cuba in the first seven months of the year, compared to the corresponding period in 2018.

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