PHOTO CAPTION: Havana is empty without tourists, while freely-convertible currency stores are on the rise (Collage: CubaNet)
HAVANA, Cuba. ─ Cuba’s tourism sector did rather poorly for the first quarter of 2021. Preliminary information has leaked out from the National Office of Statistics and Information (Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas e Información, ONEI) to the effect that arrival of international tourists has dropped 95.1% from what it was for the same period last year.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic is partly responsible for the decrease –January and February of last year were not affected by the pandemic- however, one cannot ignore the shortcomings of the Cuban tourism sector that causes Cuba to lose ground in an area as competitive as the Caribbean. These shortcomings span from insufficient cleanliness to shortages of fruit and vegetables to offer tourists.
Add to that the Ministry of Tourism’s recent announcement that celebration of the 40th International Tourism Fair (FIT Cuba 2021), scheduled for May 3rd to May 8th, would be postponed. This is the most important tourism event in the country.
No doubt, the postponement of the Fair, and its resulting effect on marketing to promote tourism in the island, will make tourist arrival even lower, even if hygiene-sanitary conditions were to improve.
In such a predicament, it’s logical to assume that the Cuban administration will intensify its wheeling and dealing to make sure they can access convertible currency to keep the
debilitated economy afloat. It’s been reported, for example, that one such maneuver involves the cancelation of flights to countries such as Guyana and Panama, where many Cubans travel to spend their US Dollars buying articles they later re-sell in the island. In contrast, Cuba is encouraging the arrival of Russian tourists so they can spend their money in Cuba.
Also, when the time comes to evaluate the domestic repercussions that a decrease of foreign tourist arrival and its resulting US Dollar-income deficit have on the country, it would not be far-fetched to associate this with the speed at which hard-currency-only stores are being opened. Your average Cuban is under the impression that, as US dollars become more difficult for the Cuban government to obtain, the more “convertible-currency-only” stores will become available for the benefit of citizens with US dollars in their magnetic cash-cards.
It is difficult already to find large stores –also called “department stores”- that accept domestic currency. Cubans without access to US dollars only have left a small network of stores –of course, with the added burden of unending food lines and obligatory scanning of personal ID cards so that individuals cannot attempt to buy earlier than the time specified by the authorities to do so- where one can purchase chicken, hotdogs, ground beef and some personal hygiene items. In other words, subsistence buying.
However, in order to buy a pair of pants, a shirt, a pair of shoes, socks or hose, underwear, a fan, a refrigerator, a mixer, a rice cooker, an air-conditioning system (aka split), and the best and most-wanted food items, the individual must have US dollars.
The outlook, then, is somber for all those who wish to see the hard-currency-only stores eliminated, for it gives a clear sign of apartheid against a large percentage of the population, a form of exclusion that is already affecting certain members of the population that until recently were unconditionally loyal to the regime.
Recibe la información de CubaNet en tu celular a través de WhatsApp. Envíanos un mensaje con la palabra “CUBA” al teléfono +1 (786) 316-2072, también puedes suscribirte a nuestro boletín electrónico dando click aquí.