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    Cuban Customers – Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom

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

    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
    innovation.”

    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 –
    translatingcuba.com/cuban-customers-collateral-damage-in-the-tourism-boom-14ymedio-luz-escobar/

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