The World Travel & Tourism Council has voiced dismay at US president Donald Trump’s plan to reverse key elements of a relaxed trading pact between the US and Cuba.

The rollback of plans introduced by former president Barak Obama in 2014 was a “clear and unwelcome reversal”.

WTTC president and CEO David Scowsill said: “The Cuban people are directly benefiting from increased business and leisure travel to Havana.

“Travel brings income to the people who work in our industry. President Trump’s statements indicate that the Cuban people, rather than the government will be hit by this policy change.

“Airlines, cruise lines and hotel groups have all made significant investments and plans to create jobs and to grow the industry in Cuba, based on clear direction from the previous administration. Our sector needs consistency from governments and stability of policy.”

He added: “There is latent demand from the US for people to visit Cuba to explore its history and culture, and it would be a retrograde step to revert once again to Americans traveling in groups.

“Over the last months the uptake in travel from the US to Cuba has not been as high as expected, primarily as hotel capacity has not kept up with the demand, leading to some of the US airlines cutting back capacity to the island. President Trump’s announcement will put further pressure on the airlines.

“There is plenty more scope to grow the travel sector in Cuba. The country is not reliant on the US market for further tourism growth, but it is American businesses and leisure consumers that will suffer from this proposed move.

“US citizens have been travelling as individuals rather than on group tours. Rolling back this policy and allowing US citizens to only enter the country on organised tours, means that less tourism dollars will find their way to the Cuban people.

“Tourism is a force for good, it bridges gaps between cultures and empowers local people by creating jobs and income streams. We would urge the Trump administration to support the Cuban people,” Scowsill said.

Cuba is the second most visited Caribbean island with Canadians and Europeans steadily increasing their numbers, with direct flights into various beach locations on the island.

Visitor exports, which is money spent by foreign travellers in the country, totalled $2.8 billion in 2016, according to WTTC figures.

The tourism sector contributed almost $9 billion to the Cuban economy last year – or just under 10% of the country’s GDP – and supported almost 500,000 jobs, which is about one in 11 of all jobs.