Yenisel Rodriguez Perez
In the central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus, like across the rest of the country, facilities have proliferated providing private lodging to national and foreign tourists alike.
In the historic district of the province’s capital, there are now guesthouses just about every 100 yards. What has especially increased is the number of establishments catering to nationals, a consumer group that pays for their services using the devaluated currency (of the two existing currencies in Cuba) – the one sadly known by the initials “CUP.”
Going for about 120 CUPs per night (about $5 USD), the cost of lodging is still outrageously high for the average Cuban worker, taking into account that the average monthly wage in Cuba is around 400 CUPs. Consequently, this alternative remains privileged, though some people believe that the prices will come down with increased competition.
For the average worker, there’s a more affordable option known as “alquiler por horas” (renting by the hour). Despite having been illegal for many years, this type of operation has never ceased being practiced in Cuba. The principal consumers of “renting by the hour” are those couples who are not allowed to or don’t want to be intimate where they live – often with parents and other relatives.
The legalization of these types of business has influenced the quality of services more than anything – substantially improving them.
In Sancti Spiritus a lodging business is called a “hostal” (inn) when it includes both services (hourly and overnight). When they only offer “by-the-hour rentals,” these businesses are referred to as “paladars” (as are small, private mom-and-pop restaurants here in Cuba)
Customers who have enjoyed those services in Sancti Spiritus speak highly of their quality. This supports the thesis that the provision of small-sale, local services is best administered by private owners — be they cooperatives or even individually/family-owned operations — but not by overly centralized national governmental bodies.
An example of the effectiveness of services provided by small-scale owners is the resurgence of the notion of the polite and courteous treatment of the customer, something that had all but disappeared in our country’s culture of a take-it-or-leave-it service sector of the economy.
The customers I spoke with pointed to this personal treatment, a family-like atmosphere, clear and direct communication, not to mention solidarity and camaraderie, when characterizing the quality of the services provided to them at the inns and paladars of Sancti Spiritus.
These are some of the identifying signs that have begun to characterize short-term lodging businesses in Cuba, questioning that pessimism and self-defeating fatalism that for too long a time “branded” small-scale urban ownership as some germ of savage capitalism.
Small-scale private ownership isn’t necessarily capitalist. It’s current and future value depends on many things, but basically it responds to the ways in which the government directs socio-economic institutionalization.
Small business owners have begun to reconfigure diverse and simultaneous paths from which they will be able to advance Cuban commercial culture – some more socialized others more individualistic. The future depends on where we put the emphasis: on competition and private accumulation or on cooperation and the just socialization of profits.
At the El Parque Hostal, located only steps away from the historic district’s Conrado Benitez Cinema, one can enjoy the best of service. Oracelio and Mercedes, with friendliness and fine treatment, will provide you more than your money’s worth…and from their hearts.