Domestic Cuban Tourism Growing on the Island / Ivan Garcia
Ivan Garcia, 31 August 2106 — Nothing pleases Germán more than having a
cold beer by a swimming pool or indulging in the all-you-can-eat buffet
at a resort hotel. The fifty-five-year-old blacksmith worker also likes
people calling him Sir, watching foreign TV channels and having
something for breakfast other than coffee with milk and bread with
Sitting in a large leather chair at the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort
in Cayo Coco, a small island in Ciego de Ávila province about 600
kilometers east of Havana, Germán confesses that is the seventeenth time
he and his family have stayed at a resort. "I do not have money to spare
nor am I rich. But we have the right to relax in a nice hotel and be
treated the same as foreigners."
The number of Cubans who are able to afford a stay at an all-inclusive
resort at various tourist spots across the island has been steadily
growing. In spite of sky-high prices, Eugenio — a tour promoter for the
military-run Gaviota chain — says that this year "the number local
tourists staying at three, four and five-star hotels is likely to
surpass one and a half million."
That figure would not be significant but for the fact that the average
worker makes only about twenty dollars a month. A three-night stay for
Germán, his wife and their three children costs 556 convertible pesos,
the equivalent of what a medical specialist earns in a year.
Where are Cubans getting that kind of money? It is a good question but
one that Giordano, a forty-year-old self-employed worker, prefers to
sidestep. "Not by saving a few kilos every month in a business curing
ham and sausages," he replies.
It would seem that things are going fairly well for Giordano. He and his
wife rent a hotel room twice month. If business is going well, I will
stay for four or five days. If not, we'll only come on the weekend."
Luis Alberto, a desk clerk at a hotel in Cayo Guillermo, says, "Many
Cubans stay for a week or more. They often tip more generously than
foreign visitors. I suppose they can afford it because they have
successful businesses, receive big remittances or have money saved from
working in medical missions overseas."
Gina is a dermatologist who has worked in South Africa as well as
Trinidad and Tobago. She acknowledges that, with the money someone like
herself saves from her job and treating affluent clients on the side,
she could spend six days in an "all-included" hotel with a nice beach.
"But this is the exception," she notes. "Usually, doctors have so many
pent-up needs that we use the money to repair or purchase a house or to
buy a car."
A source who works at a Havana branch of Western Union says, "Every year
more money changes hands, mainly from the United States to Cuba. Whether
it is to address a serious family problem or to buy a plane ticket for a
relative who wants to emigrate to the United States, the average Cuban
receives an average of two-hundred dollars a month."
For Daniel staying in a high-end hotel and being a tourist does not
represent an economic sacrifice. As the owner of a private publicity
firm, he can afford to stay up to five times a year at a resort spa. "Of
course, I am always on the lookout for promotions and good deals. There
is a segment of the population like me that can spend more than three
days in a first-class hotel."
Noel, a former manager with the state-run resort company Cubanacán,
says, "Clearly, a ton of money is coming into Cuba from Miami but let's
not forget that there are private businesses that also generate quite a
bit of money, which can make a resort vacation affordable. It's
incorrect to think every Cuban on holiday is there because his overseas
family is paying for it. Most people are broke but I estimate that about
ten percent of the population can afford a few short vacations within Cuba."
And the number of domestic tourists on the island is an important
figure. It exceeds the number of Canadian travelers, the largest foreign
According to Eugenio, a tourism promoter, "within five years it could be
as high as two and a half million people. Cubans have an inferiority
complex because of mistreatment by service staff at some hotels. But
although local customers spend less, their money is just as good as that
of Spaniards or Italians. Before too long, the only contingent that will
be bigger than ours will be the Americans."
But that is yet to be seen.
Source: Domestic Cuban Tourism Growing on the Island / Ivan Garcia –
Translating Cuba -