The Reopening of Cuba’s Tourist Industry, When and How?

By Aurelio Pedroso  (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES – At some other time we may have announced the millionth tourist arriving with great fanfare. Now we will have to honor the first person to arrive with whatever honors are available: red carpet with government dignitaries and even a Mercedes Benz on the runway, if that’s what it takes.

If we can get him or her to pay in advance, event better… There are pressing bank debts, companies that are owed money, and even the country’s stomachs ready to process food or certain medicines.

The resumption of tourism on the Island will be, aside from the metaphors, a rare and unique decision, one where the public health authorities, regardless of urgent political or economic interests, will decisively intervene.

Almost parallel to President Miguel Díaz-Canel words of “designing the recovery stage,” and pointing out “how we are going to open up tourism, how we are going to open up flights, and from which countries…” there have been more than a few foreign airlines that have announced that they will resume landing on the Island.

Air Canada just announced flights starting June 1 to Cayo Coco (Ciego de Ávila), Holguín and Varadero. From Madrid, a tour operator friend of mine says that Evelop and Air Plus Ultra are already heating up the engines for the same date in June. The latter will supposedly fly to its destination on Tuesdays to Santiago de Cuba.

Cubana Airlines, meanwhile, will have to wait to fly to London while Prime Minister Boris Johnson decides.

At the same time, there are plans for flights to and from Cancun, Mexico, through Aeromexico, while the Panamanian Copa also studies and evaluates those initial days of June.

There’s been an avalanche of requests for landing ‘slots,’ according to an aviation expert friend of mine. This fact suggests that airlines don’t appear to be very wrong about the possibility of starting to fly starting in June. They cannot all be wrong in their calculations and projections.

The truth is that it is not known when airports will reopen. It will be necessary to wait for the unfolding battle against the virus and what decision the Cuban government takes regarding the safeguarding of its borders against a disease that is still a mystery. If the closing was controversial, the reopening will be no less contentious.

Perhaps one of the measures taken will be the controversial Covid Free health passport, one where a visitor who arrives will be required laboratory tests with no less than three PCR studies, in addition to quarantining.

From neighboring Miami, there is little to expect since that city has the double virus: COVID-19 and the Trump Virus-20.

This is a situation that is too risky to forecast at this moment. And this is no time for improvisation. A calm and far-sighted projection should prevail. One where we must decide between the purse (money) or life (the pandemic).

21 thoughts on “The Reopening of Cuba’s Tourist Industry, When and How?

  • August 14, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Reading some of the comments in this site made me want to participate. We are all very anxious to travel once again and take advantage of the fact that we are fortunate enough to have some hard earned cash to dispose. The Cubans “milking” us tourist comment I read is just unfair,not to mention insulting. Have you ever realized how little you pay to be in a tropical country? Have you ever considered how SAFE you are in Cuba? Note that I have capitalized the word safe,because if you been there a couple of times,you may have noticed that is a fact of life in Cuba; not only for us as tourists,but for the locals as well. Another fact of life you might missed is that the airlines ( I mean ours) are the ones deciding the price we pay to go there. When you talk about “milking” you should inform yourself on how this system (ours) works. You should compare prices from other destinations in South Asia and many other destinations in Latin America. Would you pay those prices to expend your vacation in a sort of gated community (the resort) because “out there” is dangerous?. I won’t try to explain why some tourists find Cuba a “little” too poor when it comes to the food and the condition of some of the hotels we go to. Even though I’ll try just some facts: I understand that some of these places are a little bit in need of repairs,but one has to understand that when one has to manage a limited budget one has to choose between painting a building or providing resources for the population. The food in these cheap places is not up to your standards?. Try the one that most of us consume on a regular basis in our “fortunate” countries, paying outrageous prices. I can go on for many pages,but does not make much sense,since I realized that some people are just that : people. Greetings from Toronto.

  • May 13, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Methinks you credit the Castro regime with capitalist capability. Their guiding principle as previously demonstrated, is the lowest cost. Time will tell.

  • May 13, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Calm down, I merely asked for a clarification of a point made in the article. If Virgin goes bust, however, there would be a compelling case for Cubana to lease a decent plane for direct flights from the UK.

  • May 12, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Who would fly Cubana Aviacion when it is possible they might be sub-contracting 39 year old aircraft rented from other countries cowboy outfits? Look up the safety analysis of the different airlines prior to booking – it is your life that is at stake!
    There are normally a variety of ways to fly from the UK to Cuba using reputable airlines. Yes, Virgin out of Gatwick was the easiest one, but there are many others, for example, internal airports like Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle to Paris or Madrid then on to other reputable safety conscious airlines.

  • May 12, 2020 at 11:16 am

    OK you meant Cubana Airlines. Sorry, but no word at all on that for the moment.

  • May 12, 2020 at 9:44 am

    I meant, are they ever? Cubana stopped flying to London some years ago so Virgin has a monopoly at the moment.

  • May 12, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Ben, I think patience is the best bet for now. The post-Covid-19 scenario is not so clear anywhere, Cuba included.

  • May 12, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Are Cubana planning to fly to London again ?

  • May 11, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Tourism around the world, is suffering almost a total slump. Airlines unless supported by governments will go bankrupt. Airports have row upon row of aircraft sitting idle. Aircraft manufacturers will have empty order books. Boeing alone normally employs 300,000, GE and Rolls Royce produce jet engines – nobody wants them, will the employees in all the related industries have holidays as a priority?

    Hotels are empty. All the tourist coaches are sitting empty. The employees within the numerous tourist related industries are all affected. Covid 19 is not going to suddenly go away. Yes, people have become accustomed to having international holidays, living in hotels and being served. But, it isn’t only a question of when it will be possible to re-open the various services, there is also the question of how many will be able to afford them?

    There will not be a return to “normal”. The future normal will be one where many remain unemployed and in my opinion the Western world will have an economy similar to that of the late thirties.

    When Barack Obama ran on the slogan of “change”, virtually nobody was considering that there would be a pandemic of the scale being experienced – compelling real change. Even now, few are thinking that another wave of infection will arrive.

    The luxuries of daily life to which the western world has become accustomed to as normal, are not guaranteed to be permanent. Those household utilities, cars, eating out, going shopping for up-to-date clothing, taking weekend trips, will all be affected. Property prices will fall. The efficiencies of scale in tourism and other industries, reduced costs, lower usage will lead to increased costs.

    It takes a great deal of optimism to consider that for example, Cuba will in 2021 receive 4,000,000 tourists.

    Reality is difficult to address and even more difficult to accept.

  • May 11, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Yes, I agree with you Frank. Most tourists who consider Cuba as a vacation destination go down for one or two weeks at most. Yes, there are others, usually retired and/or those who have a significant other on the island, who go down for longer stays. A two week isolation period will be a slight inconvenience for them.

    The Cuban government taking pandemic precautions like almost all other countries in the world will require anyone entering the country to self quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. That is, 14 days in isolation not venturing outside the designated hotel or other areas deemed restricted. No vacation there.

    Imagine a family planning a two week vacation in Varadero with the kids. Imagine the kids in quarantine for the entire two weeks, no beach, no pool, no restaurants, no mingling with other kids, no walks, no evening show, nothing. I hope the Canadian tour operator explicitly explains very thoroughly that the vacation will be one they will have never experienced before in a sun destination. And, to add insult to injury, the financial cost will much higher than previous years.

    Furthermore, for more additional stress, upon return to Canada the vacationer must allow for another 14 days of self isolation quarantined. And, as you state, if the vacationer is employed no employer will be so accommodating as to allow an additional two weeks of work absenteeism.

    So, as you, I cannot see millions of Canadians flocking down to Cuba in the near future with the current health restrictions from both countries, though worthy, in the current climate.

  • May 11, 2020 at 8:50 am

    If quarantine Thing continues, there will be no vacation. If someone travel for 7 days when returns home & he/she has to go 14 days of quarantine , there is possibility to loosing ones job . Until quarantine things remove, travel overseas is the very difficult at the moment.

  • May 11, 2020 at 5:21 am

    If cuba wants Canadians to return, they will have to treat us a lot better, we are getting ripped off on the currency exchange, customs at the airports are taking gifts off the tourists meant for the needy, the tourists horse and buggys in Varadero are aggressively ripping off tourists and in the hotels the management ignore simple requests from Canadians and fall over themselves to pamper the Cubans and Cuban-americans. I have been to over 50 times for at least 2 weeks a stay and will wait and see what is going to change for the Canadians. This is a common sentiment among many Canadians who are the best and sometimes only tippers.

  • May 10, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    As an addendum to Stephen’s comment above, Canada is allowing entry of carefully defined people. In particular, the spouses of Canadian citizens. But, the requirements include providing proof – marriage and birth certificates for example- temperature tests at airport of departure and so on, and any such qualified people must then enter two weeks isolation. Just enter ‘who can travel to Canada’ on the web, to see details.

  • May 10, 2020 at 5:56 am

    Hi Victor, unfortunately I don’t have the crystal ball either. Will it be safe to be in South Carolina in September? After starting off quite lax, Cuba has taken strong measures to try and stop the propagation of Covid-19 and we’ll see how things develop. Of course we all hope safety will return ASAP but I wouldn’t worry about September now. Stay safe and keep informed as the days, weeks and months advance.

  • May 9, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Is my trip to Havana from South Carolina safe for an arrival date of early September?

  • May 9, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    On Friday March 20 at 6.00 p.m., under the guise of Mesa Redondo, all TV stations in Cuba plus TeleSur from Venezuela, broadcast a two hour long program. There was the usual top table of the President, the Vice-President,. the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. As usual, the Vice-President who merely fulfills the role of being the token black, did not speak, but each of the other three did for prolonged periods. There was the usual collection of the Party faithful forming the audience, sitting in tight rows shoulder to shoulder. Neither the top table or anybody in the audience wore masks. It was clarified that all people holding Visitor visas had to leave. Although my home is in Cuba and although I had intended to hunker down there, the message was loud and clear. If on a visa, get out! Those who were dilatory paid the price being allocated to specific hotels.
    Through my son, I contacted the airline and changed my flight to the following week. I do not know how the tourists were informed, but the flight I left on was full including tourists from Germany who faced a daunting journey through Canada and London. Flights served no food and the restaurants in the airports were closed. Goodness knows when the Germans (and some Danes) got something to eat.
    One noticeable thing in Cuba, was that if purchasing anything to drink payment had to be made in euros, Canadian dollars. British pounds or US dollars with a 10% surcharge, CUC could not be used, So I gave a $5
    Canadian note for a can of Sprite – change was only given in US dollars – I was given two. Obviously the hope was that another drink would be purchased and the 10% surcharge applied. Cuba never ceases trying to find ways to milk the tourists.

  • May 9, 2020 at 11:57 am

    LAST Flight Out Yes I Look at My Hotel Expense & Return Flight Cost, Will Never Forget How for most of us We were in isolation already & Ordered From our Cuban Homes. First Hotel I Learned we had been forced together with Nations from all over the World, Guess What: Many Hotel Guest Had Only Been In Cuba Less Then 2 Weeks. When was that, OH Yes March 25th. $ Money Comes First Not our Health or Safety when We except There Tourist invention into Cuba: Don,t Ever Forget That You are Wreath Nothing, They Need $$$ Lots of our Canadian Money So Much, That Now we Could Die for all they Care. Tell Me Dose anyone See it Different, IF you Were on The Last Flight OUT.: My first Day in Cuba Nov 15th & My Booking Date to Return (Was April 5th), Well They Got that Right. Canadian,s Have Given & Provided Cubans For How Long For How Many Years: For What. J. T. is The Man To Correct This Wrong Doing Starting Today, With A Lot Of Support.

  • May 9, 2020 at 6:24 am

    Hi Heather, Your question is like asking when will everything be back to “normal” in the UK? It’s a little too early to get an answer. Patience is the best guide at this point. The time will come.

  • May 8, 2020 at 11:53 pm

    When can tourists from the UK fly to Varadero?

  • May 8, 2020 at 9:16 am

    Yes, Air Canada will be resuming flights to Cuba in June. Passengers arriving back to Canada from any foreign destination must self isolate – quarantine – for 14 days upon arrival. They must present an “isolation plan” to authorities upon arrival. Failure to do so or if the plan is unacceptable will allow authorities to steer passenger(s) to designated obligatory quarantine hotels.

    Prior to the pandemic, arriving passengers, if need be, simply hailed a taxi or hotel shuttle bus and went on their merry way. No longer so. The Canadian health authorities are very aware any traveler arriving back on Canadian soil must quarantine. That is the only safe passenger pandemic procedure at the moment.

    There is also talk, as you alluded, to “immunity passports”. This is a very vague area. It is my understanding those individuals who have been tested with COVID-19 antibodies in their blood and are healthy qualify for such a document. This is a very controversial and divisive approach to allow travelers either to freely enter or leave a country.

    I do not think the Canadian government will be determining persons freedom to travel on this criteria at the moment. It is also my understanding the World Health Organization (WHO) is not in favor of such travel discrimination. The Canadian government and health authorities normally follow WHO directives.

    You are absolutely correct: “This is a situation that is too risky to forecast at this moment.” And, from pandemic to politics, “Trump Virus-20” catastrophic if it continues to spread.

  • May 8, 2020 at 7:54 am

    I was made to quarantine in a hotel from my safe apartment. I had been living in Cuba since January 5th. I got the virus in the hotel by being made to quarantine with newly arrived European tourists. It was not the way to do things taking those of us who had been living in the community in our own separate accommodations and putting us in hotels. It placed us at great risk. Unnecessary risk. That being said these flights might be a go but are they only for hotel stays or for people to return renting in the community? I can’t see anyone traveling to Cuba if there is no guarantee of a repeat of how things were handled in regards to infection control the last time. Even if people are staying in hotels they are still intermingled with people in the community so I don’t see any difference in the two. Also if required to quarantine then quarantine where? You still have to take a taxi to your destination. There is alot to be figured out and perhaps reconsidering how to deal with alot of foreigners who are renting long term in the community. Those communities need that cash not just the hotels. It might be a good idea for the government to lax the rules on the amount of suitcases foreigners can bring in too. Many of us want to bring much needed things for the people and should not have to pay for extra bags at the airports.

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