Cuba Ratifies Ban on Private Tourist Guides & Agencies
By Ely Justiniani Perez (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – Minister of Labor and Social Security, Marta Elena Feito Cabrera, ratified the ban on practicing as a tour guide in the private sector. A letter dated December 28, 2021, was delivered this week to the six representatives of a large group of tour guides who are calling for their activity to be granted legal status as self-employment. So far they are out of luck.
The letter rules that travel agencies and tour operators “are associated with tourism products developed and commercialized by Cuba’s state tourism business system and, according to the Ministry of Tourism’s policy, these cannot be commercialized by natural persons, nor are they able to work as part of private micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, cooperatives or as self-employed.”
This negative response comes after almost a year since over a thousand persons linked to the sector called for this activity to be legalized. They organized and sent petitions to the corresponding ministries and even engaged in conversations with officials from these institutions. Here is a summary of this process.
TIMELINE of a NO
February 10, 2021 the Ministry of Labor and Social Security issued a list of 124 economic activities that banned in Cuba’s private sector; including tour operator services and travel agencies. This led to a heated debate from people linked to tourism services.
In the following weeks, dozens of people linked to the sector began to mobilize and send letters to the corresponding bodies. They also shared an online petition for the legalization of private travel agencies and the document was signed by over 1500 people.
May 20, 2021 In response, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security wrote a written response to one of its signatories saying that “with the new Social/Economic Strategy to push the national economy in the interest of encouraging local development and production linkages between the public sector and private forms of management, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, alongside the Ministry of Tourism, are analyzing whether to allow these activities and others relating to the tourism sector.”
June 7, 2021 the Cuban Republic’s Official Gazette published Resolution 132/21 by the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), a new series of regulations for “national travel agencies”.
While the regulations don’t explicitly state who can create these agencies; it does recognize that natural Cuban persons (including the self-employed) can be “providers of tour services” that offer “the sale of these in groups, programs, circuits, excursions or other tourist services” via national travel agencies. It doesn’t explain how this relationship would work; but the lack of clarity in these regulations was also a spark of hope for the more optimistic.
August 19, 2021 To many people’s disappointment, the activity of travel agencies and tour operators reappeared on the banned list again within a new series of decrees and resolutions that regulate private sector enterprises (including MSMEs, cooperatives and self-employment).
September 22, 2021 Faced with continuous complaints, officials from the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security agree to meet with six representatives from the Facebook group Guías Turísticos por su legalización como TCP (Tour Guides wanting legalization as the Self-Employed), which had over 800 members at the time (today, there are 1100).
At this meeting, MINTUR asked the guides to hand in written project proposals so they can “better understand how far they want to go so they can identify the red-tape that the activity “tour guide” would face as self-employment, to legislate and find a solution to this red-tape and giving them wide-ranging and unrestricted participation,” according to a summary of the meeting that was posted by the group’s members.
January 7, 2022 Group representatives from Guías Turísticos por su legalización como TCP who took part in the meeting with MINTUR and MTSS receive a letter from Minister Feito, who ratified the ban on the practice of tour guides and travel agencies, both as self-employment activities, as well as MSMEs and cooperatives.
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6 thoughts on “Cuba Ratifies Ban on Private Tourist Guides & Agencies”
John I disagree with a few things you have said. One is that the last thing US hard liners want is for Cuba to succeed in unleashing its people’s potential energy. I think that release is exactly what will help foment more resistance in Cuba and therefore I would expect US hard liners to see value in that. Not if it comes at the same time as benefiting the government, but if there’s a way to unleash that energy without helping the Cuban government, I’d think they’d be all for that. Another thing is the hope that further up the chain of command someone may reverse this decision–I think the further up one goes, the worse the prospects of that are. The Cuban gov’t (hard liners) are not motivated by what is right or what might work best for the people–either their own, or tourists visiting. So while yes it would be a nice idea for tourists to disembark a cruise ship and be able to choose from badged guides waiting at a dock, this is very hard to imagine in Cuba, at least for some years to come. I may be wrong and hope I am, but that seems way too liberal, and offers too much choice for everyone involved. Control is the thing. For the record, I am all in favor of letting Americans go to Cuba and mostly do what they want–but I do think perhaps the one legitimate thing Trump did re: Cuba was to tell Americans they can’t directly pump money into the hands of the Cuban gov’t by staying in hotels owned by them. Yes if we spend money with individuals and small businesses, some of that money makes its way back to the gov’t (just as it does here in the US), but at least some doesn’t.
The anti-imperialist raises good points. However Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, have managed to overcome that human tendency to benefit from and protect monopoly within the structure of equally single party control. I think a decisive factor is the threat from outside. When the US ended embargoes, it accelerated domestic reform.
If Biden-Harris showed some sense and stopped echoing Trump/Bolton/Claver-Carone sanctions, general licenses for people to people travel, exchanges, cruises, etc. would allow US tour operators to fill the plate of the State companies and make them better disposed to accept the complementary role of cuenta propistas with individuals, families and small groups.
Some would say the embargo forces the Cuban Communist Party and government to make bad counter-productive decisions. Since the embargo isn’t going anywhere, expect more lousy policies.
John and Jenny are both right. And the idea should extend to other professionals starting with journalists who do not work for the monopoly state media. But the problem is that a monopoly is very attractive to the holder, even if the entire country loses out. Architects, tour guides, doctors, journalists, retail sales, importing and exporting, unleashing farmers and ranchers, etc., etc., etc., are all waiting for the government/military to willingly give up their monopoly so they can help the economy and the country progress.
Well said, John McAuliff. Having photo-ID badges for registered independent guides would be a great way to proceed. I hope you are correct that this is just a temporary setback.
Hopefully this is a temporary set-back that will be reversed at a higher level. Authorizing registered self-employed tour guides, either as individuals or as members of a self-governing cooperative, is essential for the growth of responsible tourism. When cruises return, an official photo ID badge for registered guides will allow passengers to avoid self-appointed and sometimes exploitative amateurs.
The availability of registered professionally vetted guides and micro, small and medium tourism enterprises will fill a gap at the low end that cannot be met by State enterprises. They will be natural partners for home based and independent travel advisors in the US that find it difficult to work with large State agencies. They can provide personalized services to individuals, families and friends who do not like or can’t afford group tours.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs was correct when he tweeted, “Current US aggressiveness against #Cuba is aimed at hindering the ongoing profound process of changes oriented towards higher economic efficiency & sustainability, new social justice advances and improved standards of living.”
Home grown conservativism can be as big an obstacle.
The last thing hard liners in Miami, Washington and Havana want is for Cuba to succeed in releasing the creativity, energy and capability of its people.
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