Is Cuba Ready for Tourism Development?

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Tourists in Old Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — There is a wonderful growth and development plan in Cuba, which anticipates 103,000 rooms for 2020. We currently have 64,000. If this plan is carried out, this will represent a 60% increase in just 13 years. It is undoubtedly an ambitious and feasible goal, at least technically speaking.

It is very smart to rescue tourism as the leading sector, the engine for general progress in the Cuban economy. We have incredible potential in this field and making the most of it to drive other sectors, using its logistics and capital contribution, is an excellent strategy.

The plan includes building 224 new facilities and to expand another 32, which would add up to 40,000 new rooms. As well as 40 non-hotel projects; 17 of which are focused on recovering Popular Camping Sites, which have begun to dabble in international tourism too. Luckily, our holiday season doesn’t coincide with foreign tourism peak periods, if this weren’t the case, we would lose this leisure activity, just like the rest.

These plans were presented at the conference: “Tourism development and perspectives and its productive linkage with the rest of the economy”; as a part of the Business Fair which was held at EXPOCUBA between May 10th and 25th this year. The plan would represent the ability to receive over 7 million visitors per year; supposing an increase which corresponds to the increase in the number of private rooms which is also growing exponentially.

And the impact it will have on many other sectors is truly immense. Just imagine the volume of building materials that will be needed, hard currency payments by contractors; national building company incomes; the opportunity for agricultural growth to supply double the demand; the opportunity to create jobs; incomes for air and land transport services; car rentals; the impact on state-owned and private restaurant services; and an opportunity for our national industries as there will be a market for the permanent production of our consumable goods such as rum, beer, tobacco, furniture, air conditioning, etc.

Tourists in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

Then with the profits generated from tourism, we could reinvest this capital, associated with others, into strategic sectors such as mining, national agriculture, sugar production, light industries, the food industry, transport, the pharmaceutical industry and so on.

A plan like this appears to be viable and promising. And it’s a sign of our great potential. Furthermore, we have a skilled population, spread out pretty much uniformly across the island and a privileged Nature.

Just one draw back

However, the plan can be good and its potential is high, and even so we have a weak spot, which is capable of burying it and converting it into another failure; just like what has happened with so many other plans during these past 58 years of Revolution: the Cuban economic model is dysfunctional, it isn’t autonomous, it’s inefficient and it segregates an important part of our people (emigres).

It’s tangible and the changes that have been made are so timid and shallow that they don’t even encourage it to work, not even in the slightest. Not surprisingly, Raul Castro hasn’t been able to give us a favorable result after over a decade in power. Instead, the country has entered a new crisis, in spite of the small push tourism has given the economy after diplomatic relations were reestablished with the US and Obama’s visit.

The recent changes to the Cuban business system, supposedly meant to naturalize the demands of the growth the government longs, are so fake that they don’t even appear on paper. In practice, it continues to be the same centralized, static and horizontal system it has always been; which doesn’t make our economic leaders real business people, just simple puppets in the political-bureaucratic apparatus.

Listening to them talk about the subject at the conference, you can pick up on the theater show that has been created to excite foreign investors; none of whom can decide to take advantage of any opportunities, they can only do so if they are authorized to do so and receive financing from their respective ministeries. Like we say here, the pyramid in upside down here in Cuba.

On Obispo St. in Old Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

This great problem, plus the limitations on private sector growth, as well as the restrictions of the US blockade and national demands of a political and institutional nature, minimize an opportunity which truly appears to be extraordinary.

Inevitably, everything stems from this, for leading any national effort from a solid base of democracy and respect for human rights. Aspiring to develop the country with magical and arbitrary solutions, like a boom in tourism or the discovery of abundant oil reserves in the Gulf, is uncertain and inadequate.

Is that what Raul’s plan depends on, to then sell us the fake idea that the Revolution is successful and feasible? If they don’t wake up soon, or if we don’t make them wake up, or we rescue our own sovereignty, we will never prosper. Similarly, a boom in tourism is uncertain without the end of the embargo.

It’s clear that due to the favorable conditions today, tourism will grow to some extent, but not to the levels it promises and which our great potential allows. Clearly, Cuba isn’t ready, with its current methods of social organization, for such growth; nor is it ready to take advantage of the great range of possibilities that this will then offer us. It’s really a true crime to continue on as we are, stuck in time despite so much determination to move forward.

7 thoughts on “Is Cuba Ready for Tourism Development?

  • Cuba has too much history of being “embraced” by the USA to wish to have any further experience of it. Cubans once released from the iron grip of communist dictatorship will fortunately have other alternatives. If you want a brief history of USA involvement in Cuba, read the chapter headed ‘The USA’ in ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’.
    Nobody has a greater desire to see the people of Cuba achieve freedom from communist thraldom than I do, but Bee1936, adoption by the USA would not achieve that!

  • Embrace? Is that really what Cubans want? I don’t think so. Cubans want to decide for themselves the journey they will take.

  • If only the USA had ANY courage of character it would embrace CUBA! The whole ‘cold war shut-out’ is shameful and sad.

  • Good analysis that you gave regarding the crumbling infrastructure. Pero, no es Cuba – es la revolucion!

  • Si, Es Cuba!

  • There is a saying in Cuba: What are the three worst things about the Cuban revolution? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  • Readiness cannot be measured solely by the quantity of rooms available.
    Fact is, Cuba’s infrastructure– including its sewer and potable water delivery system– has decayed to the point that it will take a decade of major construction to be brought up to tourist standards.
    There is no pressure for toilets to perform their flushing functions. And just last week, an aged water pipe broke, leaving practically all of Havana without water. The problem lingers into June.
    Havana’s entire sewer system must be excavated and replaced with new pipes. To do this, virtually every street must be torn up. This will take time, money and heavy equipment which Cuba simply doesn’t have.
    So why is the government diverting workers and construction equipment from this essential infrastructure work to build hotel rooms?
    I will say again, they are putting the cart before the horse.
    It is better to have no tourists at all while Cuba fixes itself than to have huge numbers of tourists who will be so dissatisfied with their visit that they never return. That is not sustainable tourism.
    And infrastructure is not the only problem. As pointed out in an article in Havana Times today, there’s virtually no meat on the island. What there is– primarily “hamburguesa,” a mixture of pork and god-knows-what– is not even palatable.
    I have found some fairly good fish, basso, at nicer hotels. But that’s not available to the Cuban people, for the most part.
    I love Cuba, but it’s not because of the food. Put politely, the food sucks.
    The Cuba I love is its people– warm, welcoming and intelligent.
    The infrastructure and other problems can be fixed. But it will take time.
    Perhaps a reset by U.S. President Trump will provide that time. After all, he can’t stop progress forever.
    Cuba is truly not ready for mass tourism.
    It needs to realize that and focus on those problems, not new hotel rooms for foreigners.

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