'Suppliers of Customers' – A Thriving Business Serving Restaurants and
JORGE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ | La Habana | 30 de Junio de 2016 - 14:22 CEST.
Along with private restaurants and accommodations, another business line
has sprouted up in Cuba: the provisioning of customers in exchange for a
"commission." It's an "under-the-table" activity to which former street
hustlers are turning, as are active tour guides and other "experts" in
dealing with foreign visitors.
There is no regulation prohibiting the owners of these businesses from
"paying us a commission for bringing them Yankees," says Orlando Jiménez.
Many restaurant owners and the self-employed involved in renting rooms
prefer to carry out this practice discreetly, to keep from drawing the
attention of inspectors to the profits that allow them to pay their "
"I started out selling CDs of Cuban music in the Callejón de Hamel. I
got them on the street for 12, but the tourists paid 15, so I made 3 off
each one," Jiménez explained.
"Now I take the Yankees to houses that rent for 25 to 40 CUC, depending
on the area. The deal is a 5-CUC commission for each day rented. I also
offer currency exchange services. If the foreigner doesn't want to wait
in line at the CADECA (Exchange Office), that's another commission," he
Some small business owners use a system of signed business cards.
"They're important to the commission business," says Leonor, who rents
rooms in Havana. "Otherwise, I'd have just anyone bringing me
foreigners, and you have to be careful about crime."
"I have my two regular providers, who have my signed card. If they're
busy with other things, they provide it to people they trust. They have
to bring a card with my signature in order to be receive," Leonor explains.
"The rental commission is 5 CUC per day, but if the foreigner has
breakfast, lunch and dinner, I add 2 or 3 more CUC to the commission,"
There are houses for rent known as mataderos (slaughterhouses), for
prostitutes that only work for Yankees, says Sonia, who owns a business
of this kind near the Malecón (breakwater) in Havana.
The rate ranges from 10 to 15 CUC per hour, and "the girls get a 5-CUC
commission, something extra, in addition to what they charge each Yankee
for their services," she says.
A business that everyone "eats off"
Bars and restaurants with prices way out of reach for most Cubans also
have connections with "purveyors of customers."
Their owners admit that, in addition to avoiding trouble with
inspectors, caution allows them to avoid being "saturated" by an excess
of undesirable offers. "The earnings from commissions are attractive,"
according to the owners of a luxury restaurant in Old Havana.
The commissions at places like the one they have can range from 3 to 5
CUC per dish ordered by foreign customers.
If it is an off-menu dish, like crocodile meat, the commission can be as
much as 15 CUC. Cocktails and wines, meanwhile, are worth commissions of
According to Saúl Matos, the driver of a coco-taxi, the commissions
business has become a racket "that everyone is eating off."
"There are slow days when I only get two fares, but I make up for it
with the full service I offer the Yankees," he says. "If I convince them
to eat or drink at my places, I get a commission. Sometimes they even
treat me, and I make more."
"If I get an intermediate fare, but I'm able to pick up other Yankees, I
help out another driver, who pays me a commission. All this also creates
a 'rapport' with the Yankees, who end up leaving you a tip, which is
appreciated," he adds.
Tour guides and drivers who work for state agencies also have
established connections with private sector businesses.
Sandra, a guide in Havana's historic center, says that the commissions
are a business "that is easy and trouble-free," but "it's better to keep
it hush-hush, because you never know."
"Tourism packages offer complete travel plans, but if you have the charm
and the knowledge you can squeeze other things in while barely getting
off the route," he says. For this "its helps that the establishments are
promoted on the Internet," he says.
"If in a month you manage to take 3 package tours of 8 to 12 foreigners
to the restaurants on your agenda, you can make 5 CUC for every dish
they order," he says.
"Those profits are shared with the driver and the head of the tour
operator. The competition is tough, because many people on the street
have experience dealing with foreigners. But our advantage is that we
operate within the legal framework, and have better contacts throughout
Havana and the provinces."
Source: 'Suppliers of Customers' – A Thriving Business Serving
Restaurants and Private Accommodations | Diario de Cuba -
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