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Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom / 14ymedio, Luz

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 – In the photo the
couple smiles with one glass of beer in hand, all they were able to
obtain after waiting in a long line at a Varadero resort. Nine years
after the government allowed Cubans to enter hotels in Cuba (a right
previously denied them in what was commonly called ‘tourist apartheid’),
local customers continue to be discriminated against relative to foreign
tourists in the midst of the current boom in tourism.

Eugenia and Guillermo, retirees from the transport sector, are trying to
make up for lost time after decades of being unable to enjoy the tourist
facilities of their own country. With the remittances sent by their son
who emigrated and the profits on a house that they sold a few months
ago, they decided to enjoy the natural beauties of the Island and its
multiple hotels.

Nevertheless, the so-called smokestack-free industry is experiencing
tense times caused by the increase in the number of foreign visitors. At
the end of last year, the country reported a record of more than 4
million tourists, good news for the national coffers but which does not,
however, represent a better situation for local customers.

Cuba has more than 65,000 hotel rooms and some 17,000 private houses
that provide lodging. The tourist boom of recent years tests that
infrastructure and the complaints accumulate, especially with regards to
the facilities managed by the state or by joint ventures.

Eugenia and Guillermo were among the first customers to purchase
an all-inclusive package back in 2008 to spend a weekend in a four-star
hotel near the city of Holguin. They recall the experience as
excellent. “It was like living a dream and enjoying what, before, only
foreigners could have,” recalls Guillermo.

However, with the passage of time that initial joy was transformed into
discomfort. “The prices have gone up and the quality of the facilities
has decreased a lot,” comments the retiree. At the end of last year they
booked four nights in Pasacaballo, a hotel in Cienfuegos from which they
say they left “horrified.”

“The all-inclusive was actually rationed,” says the wife. “The initial
times when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted are now just a
memory.” Despite having paid for an “open bar,” the Cuban guests found
themselves with their food and drink rationed.

For the retirees, that regulation of consumption reminded them of “the
ration market bodegas,” they say. “We wanted to escape reality, to
disconnect a few days but it turns out that we found ourselves in the
same situation we wanted to escape,” Guillermo points out.

In the Pasacaballo restaurant “the main courses are limited,” he
clarifies. You can only choose one meat, fish or chicken course. On
arrival, each guest received a card that allowed them to consume a
maximum of 64 beverages, including two liters of rum for the four nights
of their stay.

The situation is repeated in other accommodations around the Island. Not
even the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, with five stars, is immune from
these types of restrictions. “We had to supervise the domestic guests
better because they were cleaning out the hotel,” a maid told 14ymedio,
on condition of anonymity.

Managed by the Gaviota Tourism Group, a business arm of the Cuban
military, special controls are placed on the accommodations of guests
from Cuba. “We have lost huge amounts of towels, cups, glasses and
cutlery,” complains the employee. She blames “the Cubans who come and do
not understand how things work in a hotel, they think this is a boarding
school in the countryside.”

“They want to eat at breakfast what they don’t consume in two months at
home, so there are many excesses,” she says. “While a Canadian will
breakfast on an omelet, a Cuban wants to put a hunk of cheese in their
pocket, take twenty servings of bread for their room and carry off all
the jam they can find.”

Maria del Pilar Macías, Director General of Quality and Operations of
the Ministry of Tourism, told the official press at the end of last year
that the fundamental challenge was to achieve a competitive service
“without disregarding international standards” based on “quality and

In 2014, the influx of domestic tourists to hotels reached 1.2 million
guests, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year. On that
occasion, the locals spent 147.3 million CUCs in those facilities,
according to a report published by the National Office of Statistics and
Information of Cuba (ONEI).

The Communist Party has urged in its guidelines “to expand and push the
development of national tourism by creating offers that make it possible
to take advantage of the infrastructure created in hotels and other
recreational and historical tourist attractions.”

Eugenia and Guillermo prefer hotels with managers from another
country. “They are much more attentive and do not seem to differentiate
in the treatment of national tourists.” In those run by the state and
under the control Gaviota the situation is different. “If you’re a
national, they leave you with the word in their mouths or with
half-service while they run off to look after a foreigner.”

The reason for that difference in the treatment lies in
tipping. Although most are all-inclusive accommodations, foreign guests
“always leave something,” comments the maid at the Royalton Cayo Santa
Maria. Also, according to the employee, “there have been many incidents
with Cuban clients who mistreat workers.”

Varadero is the main beach resort on the island and Cubans have become
the second largest group of guests in the resort, behind the
Canadians. “Cuba’s customer today not only goes to standard hotels but
also goes to the chain’s highest quality hotels,” said Narciso
Sotolongo, deputy sales director of Meliá Hotels International in Cuba.

The Hotel Group Islazul gets the worst comments among islanders. “I
dropped something on the floor and when I looked under the bed I was
surprised at the amount of dirt,” Guillermo says. The curtains were old,
there was no minibar in the room and for several days there was no water
in the sink or shower. The manager never showed up for explanations,
despite repeated customer complaints.

For the retired couple, the most difficult thing is to accept the price
increases. “So before we paid between 70 and 85 Cuban convertible pesos
(about the same value in $US) per night with all inclusive; now we can’t
find it for less than 120 or 140 CUC,” the woman complains. An employee
of Cubanacán who manages a tourism bureau at the Hotel Vedado denied
that there has been an increase in rates.

“We are in the high season and prices are rising every year,” she
explains to 14ymedio. “Now what is happening is that there is much more
demand and the cheaper offers are sold abroad, through the internet and
with a credit card.” But Eugenia and Guillermo have never connected to
the great world-wide-web and only know about cash.

Source: Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar – Translating Cuba –

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