Private House Rentals in Cuba: Splitting Hairs?

By Aurelio Pedroso  (Progreso Semanal)

Homestay rental in Cuba. Photo: Momo

HAVANA TIMES – The age-old fable by Tomas de Iriarte gains new importance after hearing the Minister of Tourism talk recently on the nightly TV show Mesa Redonda (Roundtable), for an hour almost without mentioning in the slightest those who provide private options for foreign visitors and, as a result, towards the country’s progress.

You might argue that MINTUR is washing its hands of the issue because it doesn’t have anything to do with them, but if we are to follow the concept that the Cuban President himself declared of “thinking like a country”, then there needs to be a greater understanding between them, not only to tax them or to give the controversial green light to private rentals, but because they form a key part of the tourism industry’s development strategy.

This isn’t the first time that this is happening. It seems that tourism officials only begrudgingly chew on the option of private rental homes or apartments, out of respect for many official and party regulations, but they don’t swallow it. And maybe some politicians too.

In the late 1990s, PUBLICITUR (which was the largest in terms of range of listings) used to have an excellent collection of studies with results that were more than surprising and held recommendations for plans and strategies.

In one of those studies/surveys, visitors were asked why they traveled to Cuba and then, after having stayed, what had surprised them the most, be that the hotel, room, breakfast lounge, services, beach, colonial architecture, culture, etc. The vast majority answered that it had been the Cuban people’s nature.

They can only really see this nature, no matter how diverse it may be (because we all know that we aren’t all the same in nature), in our homes, in the houses or rooms where our visitors stay.

There are foreigners who aren’t really interested in how we live and think. They prefer and to seek out luxury and extreme comforts. However most people want to have a good time and get to know us too, to strike up a conversation about anything and everything. This happens in our homes because I don’t even want to imagine what would happen if a manager caught a hotel room cleaner explaining to a tourist what the national situation is with toilet paper, for example, or medicine.

While officials continue to see them as the “competition”, we’ll be pointing our canons at the Morro lighthouse and destroying the La Cabana fortress all on our own. Or, splitting hairs which is the same thing, when the wellbeing of an entire nation thanks to tourism, is on the line.

Up until 2018, we had 39,986 private rooms on the island.

This potential productive force deserves greater support, facilities and solutions, rather than strict controls and supervision which is targeted (in some cases) to closing them down because they can “outshine” a majestic five-star+ hotels, or because some think that their owners are future and dangerous millionaires.

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