HAVANA TIMES — “Hotel Pernik, Holguin. How can we help you?”
“I need to book three rooms.”
“Look, sir, we’ve been instructed not to make any more bookings at the front desk. You have to do it through an agency.”
“Havanatur, good morning.”
“I need to book three rooms at the Hotel Pernik in Holguin.”
“Unfortunately, the system’s down and we can’t do any bookings at the moment.”
“Hotel Pernik, Holguin, so-and-so speaking, how may I help you?”
“Yes, I called the hotel and they told me I had to make my bookings through an agency. We went to Havanatur and they told us your system is down and that they can’t make any reservations at this time. Could you tell me how I can book my rooms, then?”
“Havanatur can’t make any bookings at this hotel, see. You have to call Isla Azul in Holguin and make your booking through them.”
“Good morning, Isla Azul, so-and-so speaking, how may I help you?”
“I need to book three rooms at the Pernik in Holguin.”
“How many people will be staying at the hotel?”
“Then why do you want to book three rooms?”
“Because they want to stay in separate rooms.”
“It’s not a question of what they want to do, but how the hotel can accommodate them.”
“There are no “buts”, sir, we have many booking requests right now. It seems all of Havana is sending people down here. They don’t stop coming, we can’t keep up.”
“Let’s see if we can understand one another. They will pay you for three rooms, but they have to be separate.”
“That’s not the way things work. We decide how to accommodate the guests, and they have to share a room.”
“Look, sir, that’s what we can do for you now. Should I book you the room or not?”
“I’m actually not sure, because two of them are foreigners and I don’t think they’ll be too happy about having to share a room.”
“You should have said so at the start. If they’re foreign, then there’s no problem. We’ll book three separate rooms for them.”
“Great. What’s my booking number?”
“I can’t give it to you now, the hotel system is down.”
These conversations may seem like a joke, but they’re absolutely true. We could say they are part of the everyday, “magic realism” of socialism (perhaps not as “real” as Soviet socialism, but certainly a lot less “updated” than we would want).
Many tourists come to the country hoping to plunge into this fantastic, Caribbean isle, but most like to look at it from the outside, without the wheels of bureaucracy grinding their vacations into bits with absurd resolutions and restrictions.
Cuba faces the imminent challenge of increased tourism from the United States, one of its closest and most profitable markets. It is estimated the inflow of US tourists that are to visit Cuba in the coming years could double the total number of tourists currently traveling to the island.
These are demanding people who must be handled with “silk gloves”, if the country wishes to see them return. Failing this, this market will have been ruined in a few years and the country will lose a historic opportunity to make a leap forward in the industry.
Growth will continue to be slow for the time being, but, as soon as Washington authorizes tourism in Cuba, many US citizens will travel to the island to see with their own eyes this small and strange country that survived the hostility of eleven US presidents.
In the beginning, the allure of the forbidden will suffice to draw hundreds of thousands of people to the island, but much more than the country’s natural beauty, Cubans’ educational level and general safety will be required to make them come back and become regular visitors.
This will be difficult to achieve while tourists find that many suites in a 5-star, seaside hotel have broken ACs, the ice-machine is broken and that the foreign manager of an establishment has no choice to but wait tables owing to personnel shortages.
For decades, we heard speeches in Cuba warning of the dangers that the island’s proximity to the world’s greatest military power entailed. Now, the Americans are finally coming, but they are coming in peace, and it would be very ironic if the country were not prepared for this.
(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.