On the surface, the announcement appears to benefit the territory; Cuba, if opened to full commerce with America, including travel, serves as an enormous threat to not only the U.S. Virgin Islands' tourism product, but much of the Caribbean, with industry leaders meeting on multiple occasions previous year to discuss the potential impact.
Hundreds of millions of US dollars flowed into privately owned businesses in Cuba, The Associated Press reported, spurring the growth of a nascent middle-class that could thrive independent from the government.
The Cuban government of Raul Castro has criticised President Donald Trump's new restrictions on U.S. ties to the country, saying they are "destined to fail".
"America has rejected the Cuban people's oppressors", Trump said in Miami's Little Havana, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro's government.
Trump said his actions bypassed the military and the government to help the Cuban people form businesses and pursue much better lives. Only "heavily regulated" tour groups will be allowed to travel from the U.S. to Cuba, ABC News reported.
Americans can still travel to the island under "educational" pretenses, under the new regulations, but they'll be held to strict rules and must record activity logs and schedules to ensure that they aren't traveling for the sake of tourism.
Leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also urged the administration to keep Cuba open.
According to senior White House officials, Trump is also revisiting trade and travel policies towards Cuba, clamping down on individual people-to-people travel. But, facing pressure from USA businesses and even some fellow Republicans to avoid turning back the clock completely in relations with Cuba, the president chose to leave intact some of his Democratic predecessor's steps toward normalization.
"I am totally sure that this is much better that what Obama did", said Lopez, who arrived in the U.S.in 1960. United States airlines and cruise ships are to still be allowed to serve the island 145km south of Florida.
Solé was considering opening a Cuban property, but changed its mind because of the policy changes, Zelkowitz said.
Trump yesterday was set to announce a plan to tighten rules on Americans travelling to Communist-run Cuba and significantly restrict United States firms from doing business with Cuban enterprises controlled by the military, White House officials said.
"They are cosmetic changes that don't mean anything", he said in Spanish.
"More travel, more communications access, and more dialogue with Cuba are the way forward for human rights in Cuba", Amnesty International wrote in a blog post, adding that Obama's trip to Cuba last year opened the door to "scrutiny and transparency" of human rights on the island for the first time in almost 10 years.
"There are so many other opportunities in so many other countries that are easier to deal with government and infrastructure that (hotel companies) will look to those opportunities first", said Zelkowitz, whose firm represents hotel companies such as Solé and Marriott.
"I do believe that end is in the very near future", he said.
Trump, however, stopped short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostilities.
The statement reiterates Cuba's commitment to "the necessary changes that we're making now as part of the updating of our socio-economic model", but says "they will continue being decided in a sovereign way by the Cuban people".
Some of those new groups came under intense pressure during detente, particularly after Obama's May 2016 visit to the island. He vowed to seek a "much better deal for the Cuban people and for the U.S.".
Weissenstein reported from Havana and Lederman from Washington.