HAVANA TIMES — I spent some weeks in Mallorca, an island which is much smaller than the Cuban province of Artemisa and with a population inferior to that of Holguin, which receives 13 million foreign tourists per year. You can always see 2 or 3 planes flying overhead in the sky and, in spite of such traffic, I managed to go through Immigration and collect my baggage in 30 minutes.
It’s a paradise with beaches that have clear waters and hidden bays between cliffs. Its natural beauty matches that of Cuba, but they are light years ahead in tourism management, everything has been done to facilitate the visitor’s stay.
There are many night clubs, bars and restaurants; excellent highways, beaches with lighting so people can stay longer at night, rental cars, public transport and internet coverage which reaches even the most remote places.
I paid 15 euros for a mobile phone line with internet and I still had credit a month later. I found the most interesting places using my phone, I used it as a GPS to travel, I bought tickets, I found the closest pharmacy nearby and I booked a table at a restaurant.
I understood perfectly well the desperation tourists have when they arrive in Cuba and see they have to pay 1.50 USD to use the internet for an hour. And as if that isn’t enough, they have to go to a hotel or a WIFI hotspot and often sit on the ground in order to surf the web.
Not too long ago, I read in the Cuban press that there are only 3 hotels in Havana which have free internet services for their clients. In Mallorca, restaurants, cafes, bars, the airport and many squares and parks have a free WIFI connection.
Mallorca’s nature is stunning but they also know how to make the most of this gift from the Gods. I visited the Drach caves, where its stalactites and stalagmites could be compared to those found in some Cuban caves if it weren’t for human’s touch here.
In the Drach Caves, the play of lights and colors and an audiovisual presentation convert these tunnels into a damp and eerie world, which tells you about its history, between music and songs. Everything that is said is said in Spanish, English, German and French.
Entry to the caves costs about 20 euros and when you come out of them, there is a souvenir shop and fast food restaurants, which means tourists normally end up spending about 35 euros. There are at least 5 trips a day of 30 people each, every day of the week.
In spite of the massive tourist invasion, local culture remains strong. Old towns were restored, you can travel on an old wooden train through the mountains, there are bands that play in some parks at night and locals of all ages dance.
It’s easy to come across a jazz band or a lady singing opera on the street, while the Cala Millor pier has huge stone and iron sculptures which transform a simple beach into a real art gallery.
There are restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, but you can always try local dishes. The ensaimada (coiled puff pastry) is a sweet bread from Mallorca from the 17th century, you can find it everywhere and, if anyone has forgotten to buy them, they are also sold at the airport.
I remember years ago, that raspadura (an unrefined sugar product also known as panela) used to be sold in Havana’s airport and they sold out immediately, they never brought back any more. It might seem like nonsense but how many Cuban families could make a decent living by selling this sweet.
In Mallorca, people don’t have the natural joy of a Cuban person or the wit of an Andalusian. The mallorquin is more serious, of fewer words but still friendly with visitors, always ready to give directions and to serve tourists quickly and efficiently everywhere.
They created a network of health clinics that facilitates medical tourism of chronic patients, such as those who need dialysis. For locals, healthcare is free but tourists have to pay, some directly and the majority via social security agreements between their countries.
They might have problems in Mallorca, but the success of the tourism sector seems to be the result of the joint effort of all sectors: the hotel industry, the hospitality industry, public projects, healthcare, culture, institutional management and private initiatives, customs, ports and airports.
Tourism rakes them in approximately 12 billion euros per year. Nothing is cheap but you leave with the feeling that you haven’t been ripped off and really wanting to come back. This wanting to come back is what ensures they have a stable flow of tourists.
Cuba’s natural treasures rival those in Mallorca, its cultured population as well, likewise its cultural expressions such as music, dance or the visual arts. It even has the capacity already created to promote health tourism.
However, it continues to fail in organizing its resources efficiently. You can cross the Red Sea faster than you can get out of a Cuban airport, cultural clichés are shown, the Internet that exists here belongs in the Stone Age, streets and highways are in a poor state, service is very slow.
Cuba is trending right now but trends come and go and the “national economy locomotive” could be left without fuel if the need to return isn’t instilled in visitors. More so now than after Trump has placed new obstacles in US tourism to the island.