Havana Cuba

Tourism in Cuba – the next frontier for Cayuga?

Where is Cuba Tourism going?  Will it be sustainable or continue down the road of mass tourism?

We have been managing sustainable tourism projects in Costa Rica since 1995.  We have been involved in the administration of one of the world’s premier and pioneer ecotourism projects, the Lapa Rios Ecolodge since 1999.  We started to get involved in projects in Nicaragua as early as the year 2000. And we are recognized as world leaders in combining sustainability with luxury.

Is 2016 the year to once again put on our “pioneer” hats and help Cuba develop sustainable boutique tourism?  We were invited to visit Cuba as consultants earlier in the year to help in the development of four small sustainable luxury hotels.  It was an exciting trip.   Lots of great experiences and inspirations.

boutique hotel in the making
This is the building that used to be one of Cuba’s first luxury hotels. It has great potential to be a wonderful boutique hotel again. But it sure needs some work…

We came back to Costa Rica excited about the opportunities and very happy with the warm welcome we received there from everybody including government agencies, local and international investors and local consultants. Scouting out new projects is a real fun part of our jobs and we started to dream…

Rum in Havana
There is lots of history and many stories to be told.  Best place is at the bar.  The tough part of our research. Where to find the best Mojito in Havana. 

But then reality hit!  Currently, Cuba is all about 700 room all-inclusive beach and sun locations, 1970s looking high rise city hotels and ‘home stays’ of people renting out real estate in the city.  There are no boutique hotels and sustainability is a new word for Cubans.    Doing business in Cuba is currently only possible if you accept the Cuban government institutions (in some case the military) as a business partner, or if you are a “well-positioned” Cuban resident.  Resources in Cuba are very scarce and it is expensive to operate at a high level.  Internet is just getting introduced and very sloooow.

Internet in Cuba
Airport Internet Cafe in Havana. Out of Order. Can you imagine doing business today without good internet?  It will take a while to improve.  Need patience!

What struck us the most was that the Cuban authorities were very confused about our sustainability practices in terms of how we treat our staff.  They loved our ideas of sustainability in terms of energy, building and other resources.  But many of our human resources policies at Cayuga are more “socialist” than how staff is managed in Cuba.  Isn’t that ironic? Unless this changes, this would be a deal breaker on our decision to expand to Cuba.  We are all about the people that we work with…

Mintur Meeting in Havana Cuba
We found competent staff at the meetings at the Tourism Ministry. In general, there is a great desire to do things right.  We invited them to come to Costa Rica.  

But Cuba is hot.  No doubt about it.  The Pope was there, Obama was there.  The Rolling Stones gave an amazing concert with over 1 Million people listening.  Big American hotel chains just got contracts for hotels.  The first US cruise ship just arrived in Havana.  We understand why.  Going to Cuba right today is like traveling back in time.  The first day of our visit in Havana, we felt like we were in East Berlin in 1988 – just more color and better weather.  What we are not sure about is weather the “winds of change” are for real…

Cuba Tobacco Growing Region
This was one of our favorite spots to build an Ecolodge or Sustainable Hotel. Los Vinales – the Highlands where the Tobacco for the famous Cuban Cigars grows.

We will continue to explore more and keep you posted.  Of course, we would love to open a Cayuga Collection Hotel or Ecolodge in Cuba.  But it has to be in line with our values and beliefs.  In the meantime, come visit us in Costa Rica or Nicaragua and learn how we do sustainable hospitality here – the Cayuga way.

Cuban Hospitality
We had great experiences wit the people of Cuba. The hospitality that we received was genuine and authentic. We always got offered a coffee, some fruit, a shot of rum or a cigar… We will be back.

8 responses to “Tourism in Cuba – the next frontier for Cayuga?”

  1. Hi there, Cayuga friends. As the PR firm for Costa Rica’s ICT, and even before, I’ve been wowed and impressed with your sustainability. Thanks for this thoughtful perspective on Cuba. Hope to meet you in person soon.

  2. Only time will tell,define and shape the future . I am sure you will make the best decision – thank you for your insight extremely valuable. Would love to meet in person some day . Thank you for your best practices and incredible insight into sustainable tourism . Keep us posted !

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog, Hanz. I have been concerned about unsustainable development in Cuba and how it will effect the fragile ecosystems there every since hearing that the US would be easing the trade restrictions with Cuba. I am very worried that American investors will come in and in 10 years, Cuba will look like Florida. 🙁 I am traveling there in June as part of a cultural tour with 14 Spanish teachers. I hope to speak with some of the scientists there to see what their feelings are about the future of Cuba and what types of sustainable eco-tourism opportunities currently exist or what they would like to see become available. Thank you for sharing your story with us and I am impressed by your devotion to your staff and mission. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the insightful glimpse into the burgeoning tourism industry in Cuba. I hope it goes towards eco tourism and small scale development, but from the sounds of it, it’s positioned to expand rapidly with large chain hotels and all-inclusive holiday spots, where very few locals benefit and even the tourists don’t experience authentic Cuba. I am however, delighted to hear they invited Cayuga to consult. That’s a step in the right direction.

  5. My wife and I were in Cuba right after Hans trying to witness Obama’s historic visit (we actually couldn’t get close because of all the security), touring Old Habana and we did manage to see the Rolling Stones Concert; imagine over 1 million people and the concert went of without a hitch. We then went to Vinales for 5 days too.

    Cuba is beautiful yet the tourism industry is very troubling. I have a few stories:

    In Vinales I knew that there were many places to rent a room in private houses, so I had not booked in advance. But when we arrived Vinales was completely packed and overbooked. We spent a couple hours knocking on doors to find a place, but it was only available for 2 nights. The next day we spent over 6 hours to find a place for the next 3 nights. We even checked out one of the hotels (of which there are only 3-4 in the area) and they were booked up too. This is not the way one wants to spend their vacation time – searching for a room. In the end we found a nice place with a family and a great view, but the lack of business business structure and tourism boom was overwhelming Vinales. Everybody wanted a piece of the pie and viewed tourists as walking wallets.

    As I mentioned the Vinales hotel above; all official hotels in Cuba are owned and operated by the government (as are almost all businesses of any type). This means that workers are for the most part paid minimum wages (around $20-$50 per month) and have no motivation do anything extra on the job. I assume that these same workers are highly educated (relative to Ecuador where I live) because the Cuban Education system is notoriously good. This means the workers are extremely bored and unmotivated. Anyway, the drinks at the fancy bar by the pool over looking the Vinales Valley were some of the least expensive we had because the prices are government controlled and the government also owns the beer and rum factories, but the service was terrible.

    We went one day to the beach at Cayo Jutia and experienced similarly terrible service from government owned food services. We waited for a while to be served at what looked like a restaurant, but the food that went by as we were waiting looked terrible. The restaurant had way too many customers for the number of staff working there; yet this situation was a daily event. Instead we decided to try to get a sandwich from a ‘snack bar’. Again I waited in line for an hour; they served the exact same sandwich to everyone, yet they waited for you to order it before they made it ‘fresh’. I am not complaining; actually I found myself laughing while standing in line with a bunch of grumpy angry tourists; I even tipped the guy at the counter, but I was sure to order extra beers and rum because I wasn’t going to stand there again.

    But absurdist humor does not help solve the problems facing Cuba. Permission for private restaurants and home-stays is extremely new. We found some great privately run places in both Havana and Vinales. People who now work in this sector are finally getting real income, but the inequalities in the entire social system are huge.

    Cuba needs ecotourism as much as anywhere does… and not just in response to the ill effects of mainstream tourism. Hopefully Cayuga can get it’s foot in the door… teaching communists the value of socialist capitalism.

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