Cuba Tour Guides: Time for a New Solution to an Old Demand

Photo: Hostertur

By Arturo Mesa (Joven Cuba)

HAVANA TIMES – In September 2021, a group of tour guides went to Cuba’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security to demand that this activity be withdrawn from the list of services banned in the private sector. A Decree-Law from that same year lists a series of jobs (mostly professions), which were not authorized for self-employment licenses, and Tour Guide was one of them. La Joven Cuba wrote about this subject in an article published on October 7, 2021, called: Tour Guides, an updated demand.

The response to this appeal, signed by the Minister of Labor and Social Security, Martha Elena Feito Cabrera, came on December 28, 2021 and reasserted the ban. The arguments put forward by the official revealed little objectivity and reasoning and included accusations of malpractice. Today, when it’s clear that the tourist industry isn’t taking off, and that the target of 3.5 million visitors for this year is looking more and more remote; tour guides are still waiting for the corresponding authorities’ confidence so we can contribute with our work to bring in the revenue that the country needs, just like every other private activity does.

A few days ago, in an analysis of tourism development, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero pointed out that “ways of doing things” need looking at and alternative solutions need to be found within the sector to recover prepandemic levels. Holding the same position and rejecting the figure of Tour Guide as a self-employed worker (especially now when new lawmakers have just been elected to worry about the country’s economic future), the ministry in question would be contradicting the Prime Minister’s discourse and rejecting the sector’s need to include other actors to increase the number of tourists. Is the solution to leave the sector’s fate exclusively in the hands of large Travel Agencies and put the brakes on a genuine, noble enterprise with huge potential?

(Photo: Hostertur)

In the above-mentioned meeting, some attendees raised reasons why both forms of tourism management can coexist. Furthermore, they explained that a mass migration of workers to the private sector wouldn’t be logical or feasible, even though they can understand the institution’s reasonable fear of this possible outcome. The number of visitors recorded in the past few years, along with the country’s systemic crisis and the consequences of giving the green light to a new self-employment activity, shouldn’t represent the tour guide’s divorce from their employment agencies. On the contrary, tour guides could also assist these agencies as part of their work.

Complimenting one another, they could increase numbers and significantly improve the quality of Cuba as a tourist destination. The recent approval of taxi driver licenses and the model implemented in this case could be a basis for analysing how to address the Tour Guide issue. But it’s insane to carry on refusing a negotiation of ideas and plans.

Minister of Tourism Juan Carlos Garcia Granda. Photo: Radio Havana Cuba

It’s logical to assume that group tourism, the traditional form of tourism where tour guides work in Cuba, brings in great revenue in the country, so diversifying the management model could mean greater competition and a drop in revenue collected directly by the State.

It was suggested at this meeting that the debate be extended and to negotiate the scope of this new model if approved, taking into account the maximum number of clients, service conditions and the State’s other interests.

Experts from the Ministry of Tourism present explained that one of the reasons for their visits of the Caribbean’s tourism region had been to see how tour guides acted in each of their respective forms and what requirements were needed to approve this. This whole issue is still pending a postponed but necessary debate, at a time when the country is crying out for change in economic strategy.

What they need to understand once and for all is that the world has changed as a result of the pandemic, and travelers with better financial means have also changed the way they plan their trips. We can’t assume that tourists want to visit a region in the world in large groups, like they used to.

No state agency is ready, nor do they have the personnel they need to deal with thousands of tourists in a smaller format. This may be one of the reasons why the number of visitors we see has dropped, which the statistics prove. If they aren’t ready, or motivated, or focus on this individual market; the eyes of potential visitors will focus on neighboring markets that are in better health.

Solving these problems would positively impact attracting clients. This goes hand-in-hand with all of the possibilities a new diversified effort might develop, in the guides eagerness to create, innovate, gain recognition and raise their wages, as well as being disengaged from the usual red tape and bureaucratic dynamics of travel agencies.

The crisis in Cuba today is another reason to keep in mind, because if this demand is approved, we are talking about a higher income for an important group of professionals. Meanwhile, benefits will extend to an entire chain of suppliers and local development projects, to name just a few. Not seeing the situation like this is to deny a necessary opening to the economic activity and an essential source of revenue.

You can’t ask people to be innovative in the search for resources and solutions and then keep an economic actor with their hands tied and limited to only working for a few travel agencies, concentrating on “Group” tourism. Tour Guides, as self-employed workers, would compliment the demand that already exists in Cuba as a tourist destination, could create new products and contribute significantly to the State budget – which is talking about financial strain at the moment.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

3 thoughts on “Cuba Tour Guides: Time for a New Solution to an Old Demand

  • April 20, 2023 at 2:46 pm

    The ideology to which Bob Michaels refers, dates back to the 19th century, rather than a mere 60 years. It is not old, but antiquated!

    As for the “great leaders of the Revolucion”, the potential was destroyed by the convenient disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos and the trial personally conducted by Fidel Castro of Huber Matos and thirty eight other revolutionaries who had fought for the freedom from dictatorship only to frustrated by the Castro imposition of Communism and then inevitable return of dictatorship.

    It is critical to recall the sequence of events and declarations of intent, when speaking of the establishment of the Castro regime.

    As for Mr. McAuliff, he is the eternal optimist avoiding the reality.

  • April 17, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    Cuba could soon increase the number of American visitors, even under the Support for the Cuban People license, if it finally responded favorably to appeals by tour guides for legal status as cuenta propistas. Even better would be to allow Cubans to create travel agencies and services as small and medium enterprises and cooperatives. If vetted and licensed by the government, they can professionally partner with US travel advisers that don’t have the scale to function as tour operators do with the State receiving agencies.

    The Biden Administration can prime the private sector pump by restoring the general license for independent people to people travel for individuals, families and friends and by enabling cruises again. Many cruise passengers prefer to spend a day with an authorized private guide rather than join a cookie-cutter excursion.

    This is one more area in which both the Cuban and US governments could learn from the experience of and with Vietnam.

    Regarding an earlier misleading Havana Times post on criticisms of travel policy, during the Obama opening US tour operators had a big problem in the high season finding good quality rooms in Havana for groups. The new hotel rooms that have been constructed will make economic sense when pre-covid European and Canadian tourism returns and when the Biden Administration removes the Trump ban on hotel use by Americans.

    The former would benefit from respecting the Pope’s appeal for amnesty for J11 prisoners and from providing more space for political diversity, undoing damage to Cuba’s international reputation.

    Realistically Cuba is unlikely to do that until the Biden Administration commits at least to restore the status quo ante Trump, including lifting the irrational listing of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and the ban on hotel use and cruises. It is absurd to hear the White House boast of restoring a general license for people to people groups and conferences when Americans are still barred from indispensable access to hotels.

    In reality, two new upper end hotels have not been blocked but US travel providers are uneasy about booking them while OFAC regulations are hostile. About 1000 yards apart on the Malecon stand the permitted Grand Aston and the forbidden Melia Cohiba. Ironically the former belongs to Gaviota, the business most closely linked to the military, and the latter belongs to Cubanacan, previously an authorized destination because not linked to the military.

  • April 17, 2023 at 2:12 pm

    Just another example of the Cuban government being more concerned with preservation of a 60+ year old political ideology than the welfare of the the Cuban people.

    I believe many of the great leaders of the Revolución are rolling over in their graves saying this was not what they fought for. That was about the good of the people and not politics.

Comments are closed.