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The New York Times Recommends Traveling to Cuba without Mentioning the Dictatorship

turismo, Cuba

MEXICO CITY, Mexico. – As had occurred in 2016, the well-known American newspaper The New York Times (TNYT) included Cuba among the 52 destinations the daily recommends people should visit in 2023.

The recommendation comes at a time of severe crisis for the Cuban economy which has not managed to achieve tourism’s recovery after the pandemic.

Cuba is ranked in 27th place in the above-mentioned list which suggests other destinations as well, such as Canada, Italy, Spain. TNYT highlights regarding the Caribbean country the “culture, gastronomy, and natural wonders” of the island. It also highlights that another reason for getting to know Cuba is the character and friendliness of Cubans, and the good music. The combination of these two characteristics makes for “an ever-present happy soundtrack that vibrates in every city and town.”

The U.S. newspaper also tells of the “tempting” proximity of Cuba to the United States as another motive to travel to the island.

The text published last Friday describes Cuba as a paradise filled with beautiful white-sandy beaches, tobacco-rich valleys and happy dwellers. However, it fails to mention the food and medicines shortages, the deficient health system infrastructure, the blackouts, the political repression, or that the island has been ruled by a dictatorship for 64 years.

The New York Times limits its coverage to repeating the same stereotypical discourse that Cuban tourism agencies promote, without telling what life is really like in the country.

As would be expected, the propaganda outlets of the dictatorship have echoed the article and are using it to promote themselves.

In addition to Cubadebate and the official press agency Prensa Latina, the Twitter profiles of the Ministry of the Interior, the De Zurda Team, and the various Cuban embassies abroad replicated the promotional piece immediately.

It is not the first time that TNYT recommends traveling to Cuba. In 2016, amidst the thaw between the two countries, Valle de Viñales (Viñales Valley) in Pinar del Río province, ranked 10th among 52 travelers’ destinations.

The present publication doesn’t seem coincidental just now when. Bilateral relations have taken a new turn, more similar to the one initiated by Barack Obama than the policies enacted by Donald Trump.

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Digital Application Form Will Be Required of All Travelers Entering Cuba

Cuba, formulario, viajeros

MADRID, Spain. – Starting January 23rd, every individual who plans to go to Cuba will have to submit, upon arrival at any Cuban airport, digital form D’Viajeros, where migration, health and customs data is specified.

This new norm, via Resolution 320 of the Ministry of Transportation and published in the Gaceta Nacional Ordinaria this Thursday, January 12th, “is part of the country’s efforts to achieve a digital transformation,” indicated Rita María García González, director of Air Transportation and International Relations at Cuba’s Civil Aeronautics Institute (IACC, by its Spanish acronym).

Quoted by the daily newspaper Granma, the official also highlighted that this “is an international practice that provides information about travelers ahead of time, to speed-up bureaucratic procedures at the terminals.”

“The platform allows travelers to fill out the form up to 48 hours prior to check-in time of their Cuba-bound flight; they receive a QR code as a result which must be presented digitally or printed to the customs authorities upon arrival to our country,” she explained.

Carmelo Trujillo Machado, head of the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Disease Control, indicated that the online process minimizes physical contact, reduces the traveler’s time on the epidemiologic surveillance line, and avoids creating crowds.

The online application form has been tested during a trial period that started in November 2021. According to the information available, more than 4 million visits have been registered at the website www.dviajeros.mitrans.gob.cu, and more than 1.7 million visitors have arrived with their digital forms.

The D’Viajeros application form is available in Spanish, English, French, Russian, Italian and German.

Authorities indicated that travelers who have any doubts or questions can contact the pertinent Tourism entities either abroad or in Cuba directly, or through digital channels.

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Starting January 23rd, the Cuban Regime Will Require a Digital Application Form from Individuals Entering Cuba

Cuba, Tasa sanitaria

MIAMI, United States. – The Cuban regime announced this Thursday that, starting January 23rd, people entering the island must fill out a digital application form as valid sworn statement.

According to authorities, this is meant to facilitate and improve travelers’ experience while in the island.

The form “will provide information ahead of time in order to speed up bureaucratic procedures at the different ports of entry” to the Caribbean country.

“It will be compulsory for each passenger to fill out truthfully the information given to the Bureau of Identification, Immigration and Foreign Affairs, the General Customs Office of the Republic and the Ministry of Public Health,” indicates the D’Viajeros portal through which the document can be filled out.

According to authorities, the new measure will help with border health control for the prevention of COVID-19 and other illnesses, as well as to deliver a more expedited service for travelers at air terminals, ports and marinas.

The measure will also reduce contact and document exchange with authorities; it will allow for a more personalized way to deal with individuals entering the country and better adjusted to their needs upon arrival; and their access to tourism and government services during their stay in Cuba.

Representatives from Cuban aviation, the General Customs Office of the Republic, and the Ministries of Public Health and Tourism announced Thursday at a press conference that, after results obtained during a trial period, it was decided to make official the use of this platform via Resolution 320 of the Ministry of Transportation, published Thursday in the Gazeta Oficial; it will go into effect on January 23rd.

Travelers must complete the application form at least 48 hours prior to their Cuba-bound flight’s check-in time. Once this is done, they will receive a QR code which must be presented digitally or printed to the airline agent.

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Cuba Sabe, without Bread or Casabe

Cuba Sabe

HAVANA, Cuba. – There is no bread, not even the patrimonial cassava flatbread, the casabe, but still the Cuban regime dares us with a new edition of the controversial culinary festival, Cuba Sabe, an event that is coordinated from the Paradiso Cultural Tourism Agency by Lis Cuesta Peraza, the wife of our present ruler, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Sponsored primarily by the ministries of Tourism and Culture, together with the Chinese Embassy in Havana (the present edition is dedicated to China) and the hotel chain Iberostar, this new episode once again will be held at the Hotel Grand Packard, and will feature activities, workshops, conferences and banquets between January 12 and 14.

The event has been widely promoted in some regime-friendly Cuban news media and in the main official printed dailies; however, it’s been talked about minimally on national radio or television, perhaps to add less fuel to the fire in an environment where discontent due to food shortages is strong, as well as popular rejection of an economic management that for decades has only generated hunger, general shortages and, as a result, the extinction of practically all culinary traditions in the island.

On the streets, and because there is little information out there, there isn’t much talk about this paradox –the financing of an event to discuss flavors, food and culinary traditions in a country where there practically aren’t any- but people engaged in, or informed about, this celebration, like workers in tourist facilities that are involved in the festival, describe it as a mockery, which indeed it is, especially when one of the weakest links of the Cuban tourism sector is precisely the poor level of quality in the gastronomy department or the scant variety of traditional Cuban or international dishes available even in “luxury” hotels like the Grand Packard itself. And the list of “weak links” gets larger every day.

For people who know nothing about Cuban reality, enough proof is provided by the numerous negative comments left by guests and tourists, both domestic and foreign, in sites like TripAdvisor. Those who want to skip the research and who have experienced that “bad taste in the mouth”, only need to check their own taste buds’ memory of any restaurant, cafeteria or bar in Cuba, especially state-owned ones to reach the conclusion that Cuba Sabe 2023 is not just a pretentious event, but a mockery staged by a government whose only recourse is to draw a smokescreen to camouflage all things that aren’t going well.

Cuba Sabe is all about simulation and marketing masquerades, in an economic and political context where unpleasant consequences rule in perpetuity, the more so in a country where people are forced to fight in hellish food lines for scant and rationed food, while an elite linked to Power is privileged, thus using the mere access to food as an obvious method of socio-political control. And there is no better evidence about this statement than the marked difference between bony Cubans and fat-belly Cubans, between regular folk who are starving and overly nourished rulers.

(Foto del autor)

Cuba Sabe could be the luxury dishware in a store window of a poor individual who is ashamed and presumptuous, an empty and dusty window that’s only good for photographs. It looks more like tricks in a fair, farcical illusionism for tourists who ignore what has truly happened to Cuban gastronomy in almost seven decades of absurd prohibition and shortages.  The dinner table of Cubans have been cleared, actually sacked, by that barrage of policies where communists defined pleasure and abundance as “vices of capitalism” and, thus, punished as synonyms of “middle-class-ness”.

In truth, the history of our national cuisine has been a veritable succession of ill-intentioned, demented, failed, anti-cultural policies, and, in that sense, a history of perpetual tragedies, among them –and maybe the saddest- the disappearance of Chinese-Cuban culinary traditions, mainly because of the expropriation of these private businesses that made this such a peculiar and picturesque community.

There stands the ghost of what was, before 1959, the Chinese Quarter today, to remind us about the magnitude of the disaster, and as proof of how much hypocrisy and perversity there is in dedicating Cuba Sabe to a cuisine that was condemned to extinction.

At the fork on Zanja Street –where Havana’s Chinese quarter begins- it is very difficult to savor a spring roll, or any fritters, greens, fish, shellfish or ice cream that more than half a century ago marked the tastiness of Chinese food stands and restaurants in every Cuban city.

Same has happened with every distinct area of our gastronomy – whether indigenous, Spanish or African- that has disappeared in today’s miserable reality where not only are you sold “chicken for fish”, but also made to drink toasted chickpea powder passing as coffee, and eat strange concoctions that only out of habit we continue to call “ground beef”, “croquettes”, or “mortadella” when, in reality, they look like anything but food for human beings.

In the last 60 years, forced to fill our stomachs with anything without regard to taste or personal preferences, traditions or roots, we Cubans have lost every notion of what it means to eat out of real pleasure, or even feeding ourselves with nourishing food, or making choices when it’s time to eat.

To eat in Cuba is a veritable ordeal. The entire island tastes and smells like pure acts of survival. From prices that even at the humblest cafeteria are beyond the purchasing power of the highest state salary, to the discriminatory policy that some establishments have furtively adopted once again in order to sell to foreign tourists where Cuban clients are rejected because, apparently, those Cuban clients and their pockets full of Cuban pesos tarnish the environment of those establishments.

Beyond the luxury hotel where the smell of bad food can be concealed by strong doses of air freshener, rancid smell envelops us in the best dining places in Havana, just like spoiled beef never goes to the garbage but in the croquette sandwich or the yellow rice that a neighbor kindly offers us, or a chef suggests we eat, while the waiter whispers awful things, like people eating cat and vulture meat, both knowingly or through deceit.

If Cuba, in the realm of gastronomy alone, tastes and smells like something special, that “something special” is nothing more than the abuse that, besides “tourism apartheid”, Cubans and foreigners alike experience on a daily basis, like dismal service, poor culinary practice and unstable choices even where local news tells the public that “things” are going fine.

Forced to eat poorly, with hunger almost becoming a genetic trademark, Cubans, contrary to what some people say, are not obsessed about food, only desperate from hunger, and, at best, anguished about not having been able to choose freely for days, months or even years, what they will eat. This means that the island tastes bad to us, that is, it tastes very differently from what Cuba tastes like in Lis Cuesta Peraza’s mouth at the ballrooms in the Packard Hotel.

Today, Cuba has no bread, no cassava flatbread. Without pork roast on our tables, without yucca or corn, without fish or shellfish, without the promised glass of milk and with no coffee in the morning, without the memory and legacy of what once was our cuisine, Cuba tastes like dearth.

ARTÍCULO DE OPINIÓN
Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no necesariamente representan la opinión de CubaNet.

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A Tournament of Rascals and Scammers

Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba. – We Cubans were always famous for being likeable, friendly, noble, generous, and hospitable, and we bragged proudly about it. If once we were all those things, we are becoming less and less all those nice things. The hardships of daily life under the inept and failed “Castro Continuity” regime have changed us for the worst.

It may be hard to admit it, but to a larger or lesser degree, beaten as we are by unfavorable circumstances, we have become sullen, frustrated, rude, inconsiderate lying, opportunist, cynical, calculating, self-serving and violence-prone human beings.

The grave crisis of the last two years, caused by the immense failure of the “economic reorganization” implemented amidst the pandemic, seems to have brought out the worst in us: ambition, hypocrisy, egotism, envy, slander, rancor and aggressiveness.

To corroborate this, one need only watch the behavior of people on any waiting line: to purchase food items or to get into a crowded bus that took over an hour to come. One has to witness how, without thinking twice, people push each other, curse and insult each other and often start a fist fight.

And still, official discourse calls for people’s solidarity and asks people to “think along country lines.”

Each day there are less honest people in Cuba. Sales people, whether store clerks, bakery personnel, farmer’s market attendants or street vendors, will figure out a way to rob you or your money by charging more, as if prices weren’t already high enough. It doesn’t matter that each day products are of a lesser quality.

It has become a habit for vendors to “fix” their scales in order to increase their profit even more, or to alter their products by adding water to milk, yogurt or rum, or mixing tomato sauce with beets and pumpkin, or using less sugar on sweets and juices. They mix coffee with larger amounts of chick peas, a practice learnt from the State; and prepare fritters and “ground beef” with God only knows what actual ingredients.

One has to be very careful when choosing a plumber or a mason to fix something in your home. They always charge more money, and their finished product is shabby. In general, they fake their skills, and are careless and in a hurry to finish the job, take your money and disappear.

I know a family that had to hire three different plumbers in order to fix a clogged toilet. Between pipes, parts, cement, sand and labor, they invested over 50,000 Cuban pesos. Still the problem was not totally fixed: half of the floor was destroyed and left unrepaired, and although the toilet flushes, the solid waste flushes out to the street while folks wait for Havana Water and Sewer to come and connect the drain line to the wastewater line.

As far as inspectors go, like with any legal transaction, one has to resign to the idea that in most cases, one will have to bribe them, or wait to be extorted. If you achieve some degree of prosperity, you should care that neighbors don’t notice because that will annoy them and make them jealous; they will become your enemies, and if they cannot benefit somehow from your progress, they will make your life impossible with their gossip or turn you over to the police at the slightest infraction.

Some Cubans who reside abroad and have returned home to visit their families talk about being constantly harassed by overly servile and self-pitying people who seek to take advantage of them, and extort money or gifts from them.

If you happen to be a tourist, never trust taxi drivers, nor the authenticity of cigars they try to sell you; much less trust the young men and women who tell you they are crazy in love with you, even though you may be twice their age.

In Cuba, we are in the midst of a tournament of rascals, crooks and scammers that multiply on a daily basis and make us be constantly on the alert in order to not fall prey to their scams. You have to be especially careful of pickpockets on public transport so they don’t steel your money, your cell phone or anything of value from your pocket or your purse. And what can I say about thefts at homes or hold-ups in the middle of the street!

To live like this, assuming that decency and decorum are forever lost, is sad and depressing. Even if it’s not a consolation, on the contrary, we are reaching the point where we’ll have to accept as true the old adage that states that in an environment where one struggles to survive, it’s difficult to find decent people.

ARTÍCULO DE OPINIÓN
Las opiniones expresadas en este artículo son de exclusiva responsabilidad de quien las emite y no necesariamente representan la opinión de CubaNet.

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.




Cuba Announces Cuba Sabe 2023, a Culinary Festival Organized by Lis Cuesta

Cuba Sabe 2019

MIAMI, United States. – The culinary festival Cuba Sabe, a much-criticized event coordinated by Lis Cuesta Peraza, wife of Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, will take place in Havana between January 12th and 14th, according to Travel Trade Caribbean magazine.

This time around, the festival will include the Fouth International Culinary Workshop, and the First International Gastronomy Workshop, which will feature China as guest country.

The event will take place in the luxurious Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel, and will revolve around three themes: Cuban gastronomy in the region of Sancti Spíritus, the legacy of Chinese immigrants in Cuba’s gastronomic culture, and design in gastronomy.

Cuba Sabe is organized by Paradiso Cultural Tourism Agency (under the direction of Cuesta Peraza), Cuba’s Culinary Association, Cuba’s Sommeliers Association, and Cuba’s Bartenders Association; it is sponsored by the ministries of Culture and Tourism, the National Council on Cultural Patrimony, the People’s Republic of China’s embassy in Cuba, and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts.

According to Travel Trade Caribbean, Cuba Sabe 2023 will include conferences, tastings, specialized workshops, theme luncheons, art exhibitions and book presentations.

The official medium CubaSí adds that in the days after Cuba Sabe 2023, there will be “tours for those interested in learning first-hand about Cuban cuisine, its ingredients, its origins, the methods of production for native crops” as well as “going in depth into policies for food management and sustainability.”

Prior editions of Cuba Sabe have been widely criticized for being held in a country that is going through the worst food crisis in its history.

However, this is not the only culinary event which Cuesta Peraza has organized. In early October 2019, the president’s wife participated in the 8th Edition of Market of the Land, an exclusive culinary event celebrated in the outskirts of Havana.

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Vietnam Will Break into the Tourism Sector in Cuba

Cuba, turismo, hoteles, Vietnam

MADRID, Spain. – Vietnamese companies will build a hotel in Havana and will repair two others in 2023.

According to information published by Prensa Latina this past Tuesday, “everything is progressing well for Vietnam to break into Cuba’s tourism sector.”

The press note gives no details about these hotels. However, the regime reaffirmed that it continues to prioritize hotel facilities even when thousands of Cubans live in dilapidated housing.

It was learnt recently that in Granma province alone, 35,834 houses had dirt floors in early 2022. The government had set a goal to remedy this problem for 4,439 houses, and it couldn’t even meet that minimal objective.

Of those 4,439 houses, only in 1,462 were the dirt floors remedied; and of the 1,463, 1,110 were remedied by the dwellers themselves, and only 352 by the government.

Cuba’s ambassador to Vietnam, Orlando Hernández Guillén, said to the official press agency: “We have reasons to feel optimistic about our consolidating and developing from the point of view of the economy next year, and that new sectors will allow us to encourage Vietnam investments in Cuba.”

Hernández Guillén indicated that one such investment had already been secured, for building a cattle feed plant.

The diplomat spoke, also, about “Vietnam’s important role in Cuba’s food security,” and he stated that “rice continues to be the principal staple in our trade relations.”

He also said that Cuba’s medical services in Vietnam also could “increase in the near future.”

During 2022, Cuba suffered a drop of 65% in the Tourism sector, compared to the numbers from the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the annual report of ForwardKeys Consultants, a company that analyzes and projects travel volume and air traffic.

This data places Cuba as the country in Latin America with the worst tourism recovery, in spite of the fact that the region led the world in traveler increase in 2022, as reported by this consulting firm, headquartered in Madrid.

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Cuba Showed the Worst Tourism Recovery in Latin America in 2022

ForwardKeys, turismo, Cuba, América Latina

MADRID, Spain. – During 2022, tourism in Cuba plummeted by 65% in comparison to the numbers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an annual report made public by the consulting firm ForwardKeys, a company that analyzes and projects the flow of travel and air traffic.

These figures place the island as the country with the worst tourism recovery in Latin America, in spite of the fact that the region led the increase of passengers during 2022, stated the consulting firm, headquartered in Madrid.

“In Cuba’s case, recovery is proceeding more slowly. In 2022, the country has recovered 40% of pre-pandemic travelers. The strategy to communicate its reopening was slower than that of neighboring countries such as the Dominican Republic,” stated ForwardKeys’ head of Market Intelligence, Juan Gómez, to Radio Television Martí.

Occupying first place in ranking among the tourist destinations that showed greater recovery was the Dominican Republic, with an increase of 5% on the arrival of tourists during the year when compared to 2019; it was followed by Aruba, Costa Rica and Mexico.

According to factual information released by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI, by its Spanish acronym), Cuba welcomed approximately 1.3 million international travelers between January and November of this year, way off the projected 2.5 million international visitors that the Cuban government expected to welcome.

ForwardKeys also advised that, due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, the energy crisis, the rise in the price of fuel, and inflation affecting the principal economies worldwide, there is uncertainty about how the tourism sector will perform in 2023.

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Cuban Tourism: Caught between Worker Exodus and Bad Decisions

turismo, Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba. – Tania’s return to work after the pandemic was not how she imagined it. She is a former waitress at the Grand Packard Hotel that was among the few tourism workers that were not fired during the closings brought on by the health crisis.

She tells how, after her personal finances had grown dependent on the income from tips, she spent more than a year and a half waiting for things to return to “normal” in order to recover a standard of life that, for any tourism worker prior to 2019, was way above the median income of the rest of the state workforce, where many people depend exclusively on their low salaries.

Even though she kept receiving half of her salary without having to report to work, in accordance with existing labor laws, she could barely make ends meet to feed her two children in a country where life has become very difficult for people who have no access to large amounts of extra income or to the hard currency needed to purchase food and basic articles in a network of stores where national currency is useless.

“I was sent home with half my salary (some 1,500 Cuban pesos a month) but everyone knows that you can’t make ends meet with that, it you don’t have greens (US Dollars) you are doomed to struggle,” states Tania, who also explains that, although she was able to return to her job in the tourism sector, a few months later she decided to quit.

“I returned to work in August (2021) to do maintenance work and to prepare for the reopening in September (…), which meant a few more months living on the salary alone. I was confident that the tourists would arrive, but nothing happened, not in December, not in the following months, and then in April, I asked to be released from duty. (…) I was given the possibility of going to work in Varadero, but a girlfriend of mine who works there told me: ‘Girl, don’t bother coming here, things here are awful.’ You can’t make a buck because there are no tourists, and Cuban clients leave you nothing (…), right now, I am doing manicures, I buy items in hard currency and resell them (…). I don’t make what I did before, but while there are no tourists, I am not going back. Like me, most workers have asked to be released from their jobs (…). When you work in the tourism sector, you do it for the tips and for anything else you can get your hands on, because the salaries are miserable for how expensive things are,” states Tania.

Then there is Albert. He worked as a market specialist in Cao Coco from 2009 until January 2022, at which time he decided to leave the tourism sector for the same reasons that Tania left: the decrease in the levels of income compared to the years prior to the pandemic.

The approximately US$2,000 he received regularly every month from commissions on service contracts signed with the clients between 2014 and 2018, suddenly vanished to almost cero after the island reopened to tourism, and also as a result of cash being eliminated as an acceptable form of payment at the main tourism poles in the country.

“Every month, I would take home no less than US$2,000, there were months I would work with large groups, I signed good contracts and earned US$5,000 and US$6,000 (…). My wife earned less, but regardless, it was another US$1,000 plus every month (…). We lived in Ciego de Ávila and bought this house (in Morón) and went all out refurbishing it so we could rent it out: we put in air conditioning in every room, in the living room, a bathroom in every bedroom, a swimming pool, a three-car garage, but we weren’t counting on this debacle,” states Alberto, who after quitting his job, as did his wife, has decided to sell all his properties and migrate.

“Truly, I never thought about leaving the country. Before 2018, my life was good. I didn’t even need to travel to Havana. But things have gotten very bad. Here in Morón, the people who were renting sold everything in order to leave (…). Those who rent here were working in the keys and with that money, they made improvements to their house. Everyone is asking to be relieved from work duty. My office is empty. They will hire anyone who shows up in order to cover the vacancies. It doesn’t matter if they took studies in tourism or not. The hotels are empty, and also without workers,” states Alberto.

Recorte de queja en TripAdvisor

Absence of tourists as bad as the brain drain

According to data published by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI, by its Spanish acronym), between January and June 2021, Cuba welcomed only 114,460 international tourists, an 88.3% drop with respect to 2020, when the decrease in arrivals was notable already, with only 985,199 visitors.

Although at first, such poor results were blamed on a contraction in sales worldwide and a notable take-off was predicted for 2022, the truth is that Cuba remains behind other Caribbean destinations. ONEI’s most up-to-date statistics indicate that the crisis in Cuba persists, with a little more than 1 million tourists arriving in the island this year to date. Most of these tourists –more than 70%, according to Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) statistics- have come to the island from the Russian and Canadian markets. Several MINTUR officials that CubaNet consulted stated that tourism from these two markets are not profitable, because of the type of tourist they generate and the very nature of this travel which is priced very low through promotional sales.

Queja de un huésped sobre el Hotel Península de Varadero. Recorte de TripAdvisor

“Not only are we not getting the number of tourists that we anticipated, but also the profit margin is very low in comparison to 2018, and even 2020,” states Lionel García, a sales specialist with the Gran Caribe hotel group. “We are working to recover a market that was lost to the pandemic, and that has forced us to lower the prices, at times even with cero profit, (as with) Russian tourism, where the cost of transportation alone takes up almost 100% of the package value (…). This is a median-term strategy, but it has had very negative consequences, and one of them is the brain drain (…). A tourist who is not willing to pay another penny over what he or she paid for the travel package, will not leave a tip, especially when the package is of the “all-included” type, and where cash transactions have been barred (…). The worker exodus also creates a domino effect in that the greater the number of workers that leave, the heavier the work load becomes for those who stay. The level of exhaustion also rises because double-shifts must be scheduled until a replacement is found. Truly, no one wants to work for the tourist sector under these conditions while being paid a lousy salary. The workers who remain, quit a few days later,” states García.

Campaña de Gaviota en redes sociales

If starting in 2009, with the policy of dismissals adopted by the Corporate Administration Group of the Armed Forces (GAESA, by its Spanish acronym) which saw 10,000 tourism sector workers fired, which, in turn, caused an increase in staff workload at the precise moment when the number of tourism facilities was rising, today, the brain drain not only threatens to paralyze or slow down numerous tourism services, but also to make the quality of the services worse, an already notorious reputation long before the pandemic.

Elizabeth Velázquez, former sales director at several tourism facilities belonging to the Gaviota S.A. Group, stated to CubaNet that at least at the facility where she was employed until recently, the lack of workforce is becoming a nightmare: 60% of the workforce has quit. This is the reason why many hotels have closed off certain guest-room blocks completely, and why guest complaints for mismanagement and poor services are on the rise.

“We have several hotels in Varadero, Cayo Coco and even here in Havana that are servicing clients only because they are rotating the same workers,” states Velázquez. “They finish cleaning one, and then go to the other, sometimes making the same salary (…), sometimes we give them stimulus incentives in the form of groceries and cleaning supplies, but regardless, they quit. It came a point that I had to say “Stop!” because my phone kept ringing (…). Rooms not cleaned for days, dirty bathrooms, green moldy water in the swimming pools. Hotels where people wake up to no water because no one in the maintenance department is watching, not the water, not the boilers, not the air-conditioning system,” explained the former executive.

Campaña de Gaviota en redes sociales

Without tips, blackmailed and exploited

According to figures obtained which CubaNet compared with information provided by several MINTUR sources and with details published in several publications of the ministry, of the 86,300 workers that the Cuban tourism sector employed until 2009, at present only 60,000 remain, of which an estimated 3,000 workers are non-state workers.

If between 2009 and 2020, and after the GAESA dismissals, the number of workers remained stable at 70,000 workers, in the last nine months there has been a continuous decrease which will leave the tourism sector without a workforce in 2023, if this decrease continues at the same pace.

Interviewed by CubaNet on condition of anonymity, a professor of the University of Havana’s School of Tourism admitted that the brain drain was worrying authorities so much that those in charge in the tourism sector are considering not only increasing the compulsory social work period for graduates of the Armed Forces (FAR, by its Spanish acronym), but also forcing them to remain in the tourism sector for a minimum of five years without the option of requesting transfers to other sectors, or leaving the country.

“In a manner of speaking, it would be like a military pledge prior to being awarded their degrees,” states the professor. “It would apply not only to tourism students graduating from FAR, but also students in other careers, as well as to graduates who fill positions in tourist facilities or GAESA companies (…). I think it will work because [for the graduates] it’s better than being assigned to a military unit. The problem is that the sector will never have a stable and well-qualified workforce. By the time the workers acquire all the experience, they will leave, because they will have tolerated many years of exploitation, which means that the problem of poor-quality services will never be solved.”

“Tips are a problem, as are shortages and poor working conditions, but the brain drain in tourism has coincided with the other exodus that is taking place in Cuba,” states a MINTUR employee who spoke to CubaNet under condition of anonymity. “Great part of the present exodus is made up of people who can defray the costs of the journey to the southern U.S.-Mexico border, and prior to the pandemic, the tourist sector had the largest concentration of well-paid employees, those who were able to buy a car and purchase a good house, and now that these individuals are facing a crisis, they have decided to sell and migrate (…). It’s no secret that people work in the tourism sector not for the salaries but for the extra income, legal or illegal.”

Campaña de Gaviota en redes sociales

For Odalys Ortiz, cultural host of a hotel in Varadero, the abuse and blackmail she suffered during the pandemic made her quit tourism forever.

“If you didn’t want to go to the isolation centers, they would dismiss you automatically,” states Ortiz. “Then, you could not return to work in the tourism sector. I accepted this blackmail and I stayed because I had no other options. Those were the most horrible days of my life. I cleaned rooms day and night and into the early hours of the morning, working in the kitchen, taking food up to those who were sick, being treated rudely, because if you complained you were told you would not return to the tourism sector.”

According to tourism authorities’ statements, 8,200 tourism workers were sent to the isolation centers as service personnel, a “mission” that was far from voluntary inasmuch as compliance was the condition to remain in the sector.

“It would be good to ask just how many of the workers sent to the isolation centers during the COVID-19 pandemic have quit after the much awaited “normalcy” never came,” says Fabio, one of the “volunteer” workers. “At Villa Tortuga in Varadero alone, all the employees are out on the street. Some of us because we quit, others because they simply got tired and were punished for ‘abandoning their mission’. That’s the effrontery here. Those of us who accepted to go (to the isolation centers) did so because we thought it was worth it in order to keep our jobs; in truth, we made a lot of money, but we never imagined this. We sacrificed all those months, for nothing. I waited one month, two months, and then I left, because even if tourists arrive, the ones who come to Cuba are dirt poor and they leave nothing,” states Fabio.

The strategies to attract a workforce do not work.

Far from making plans to keep the workforce, companies like Gaviota S.A. and Gran Caribe concentrate on publicity campaigns in order to fill vacant positions; however, in the opinion of executives and directors, the strategies are not working.

“It’s not just because contract intermediaries are still kept, an error we keep repeating, but it’s also because there is no other incentive but the salary,” states a Gaviota S.A. employee. “There used to be an incentive system which wasn’t legal, but no one said anything about it. Now, that is over. It is totally prohibited. No Cuban or foreign executive is authorized to withdraw cash, nor can dollar or convertible-currency transfers be made to any employee. The few incentives that are still in effect are those that a foreign executive can make out of his own pocket, and that only benefits his closest employees.”

Campaña Gaviota

Our source continues: “The brain drain is such that we have chosen to attract a new workforce and not keep the existing one. Those newly arrived accept the work conditions, and that’s that; he or she will stay with us for a year or two and then leave, but we have no other options (…). People who worked in the tourism sector during the good years don’t want to go through this new period of crisis. Some people are lucky and found themselves similar positions in the Dominican Republic or in Cancun because they are very good workers and the foreign companies want them there, but that is leaving us with the worst employees, and we are never going to get ahead.”

In the best of years (2010-2017) and just before the start of the pandemic, Tourism represented between 7 and 10 percent of Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product (GNP, by its English acronym, and it claimed an average of 19.1 % of the export of goods and services.

With more than US$30 billion in income over the last 20 years, revenue from tourism accounted for 46% of total annual imports annually; the sector also employed more than 65 of Cuba’s available workforce, creating 1.7 indirect jobs for every worker employed directly.

In 2017 alone, which experts consider the “golden year” for tourism in the island, a total of 4,689,898 visitors arrived in Cuba, a number that, if it had been sustained or increased, would have consolidated Cuba as the vest vacation destination in the Caribbean.

Today, things are different and not at all optimistic. Hurricane Irma in mid 2017 and the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, added further troubles to an already-impoverished Cuba due to the terrible financial management of Raúl Castro’s administration, the bankrupt and debt-ridden situation that Miguel Díaz-Canel inherited, the excessive control of the Communist Party over economy decisions, anti-government demonstrations by the Cuban people, and the absence of a recovery plan that can eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and the fear of private initiatives as potentially causing political change. An avalanche of adversities and blunders that have floored the expectations that larger tour operators with respect to Cuba, which were encouraged by the Obama administration’s thaw toward the island.

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More Hotels for Tourism: Gran Muthu Cayo Santa María, Owned by Asian Hotel Chain

Cuba, hoteles, turismo

MADRID, Spain. – Asian hotel chain MGM Muthu Hotels inaugurated in recent days a 5-star facility in Villa Clara, the Gran Muthu Cayo Santa María.

Located 437 yards from the beach, the facility has 846 villa-style suites “that allow spectacular vistas of the Caribbean Sea and tranquil views of the gardens and swimming pools,” according to Excelencias Cuba.

In addition, it is an all-included facility, has two swimming pools, a sports area, a gym, a children’s club and one of the largest cigar lounges in the area.

The hotel chain, headquartered in Portugal, “is growing rapidly in Cuba,” and “has won the hearts of its guests in some of the best vacation destinations, like Cayo Guillermo, Varadero and Holguín,” states Excelencias Cuba.

Last year, the company incorporated its seventh tourist facility with the management of the Almirante Hotel in the Guardalavaca tourism pole, in Holguín province.

Prior to its inauguration, Rafael López, General Director of the Asian company in the island, noted that the hotel complex featured 514 guest rooms, a spa with four massage rooms, several swimming pools and a Jacuzzi equipped with hot-springs treatment.

MGM Muthu Hotels, which now owns eight hotels in the island, will continue to expand to eleven hotels in the near future, according to tourism authorities in the island.

The MGM Muthu Hotels chain, headquartered in Portugal, owns more than 50 hotels worldwide, including facilities in Spain, France, England, India and Scotland.

Last November, Cubadebate announced that a new hotel would be constructed in Santa María del Mar beach, east of Havana. This facility is also a 5-star hotel, and features 750 guest rooms.

In the meantime, Cubans continue to be affected by housing problems which, according to statements made by the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel, “are due to a shortage of construction materials.”

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