US Tourism in Cuba And Its Consequences – By Anthony Hayslett

26 Sep

Having experienced the large influx of US tourism to Cuba and particularly to Havana in the last few years myself, I asked a good US friend for his opinion of the consequences it has had – along with the increased influx of other tourists from Europe and elsewhere – trying to see Cuba “before the US tourist invasion”.

Here is Anthony’s opinion :

When Americans think of Cuba, we think of an exotic, mysterious, and forbidden place. It is ironic that one of the countries we most often wonder about is also one of the closest. Cuba is 90 miles off the coast of Florida, but tourism has been off limits for over 50 years.

With the relaxation of travel restrictions by President Obama, it is no wonder that a record number of Americans have been flocking to Cuba.

In 2016, over 600,000 Americans travelled to Cuba. Tourism is up all across Cuba, and it is not just all Americans visiting. There were 4 million people who visited Cuba in 2016, and they are projecting even more for 2017. With so many people visiting Cuba, this has brought about certain changes, and not all of them have been good.

I can’t write about all the complexities with the vast number of tourists and American tourism to Cuba, but I would like to write a little of what I have seen in the short time I have been travelling to Cuba.

It’s amazing the changes I have seen take place in a year, especially with regards to prices in Havana. Prices in Havana are up all across the board. Taxis, hotels, paladares (privately run restaurants), casa particulares, cigars are just a small example of places where prices have risen dramatically. Let me give a few examples.

My last trip to Havana, I went to a paladar that was recommended to me by a good friend. He raved about the pork chops they ordered in February. In February, the price of the pork chops was 9 CUC. Imagine my surprise to find out those same pork chops were 23 CUC in July! That is roughly a 255% increase.

Another example is a casa particular I looked at renting last November. The price for the 3BR/3BA casa was 150 CUC per night. That same casa increased their price to 220 CUC per night.

That’s still a relative bargain compared to what the hotels in Havana are charging. In February, The Saratoga was charging 650 CUC per night and the Melia Habana was charging more than 550 CUC. That’s more than a 700% increase in the last 10 years.

Even cigars are not immune to increased prices.

There’s a farm in San Juan that I like to buy custom rolled cigars from. In February 2016 they were 5 CUC a cigar. Fast forward to Feb 2017 and they increased to 8 CUC and then prices were increased again in May to 10 CUC.

The demands placed by the surge of tourism has also impacted the Cuban people. I am all for American dollars making their way into Cuban hands. It’s great that owners of casa particulares, paladares, taxi drivers, servers in paladares, and a host of others involved in the tourism industry have seen such a boom in business. They are able to make more money than ever, but there is also a flip side to that. What about those Cubans not involved in the tourism sector who only make 20 to 30 CUC a month?

For them, they have seen rising prices for food and the everyday items that they need like toilet paper. How are they to cope? With the shortage of food and other supplies, prices will only continue to rise making it even more impossible for the Cuban people to procure what they need.

The increased number of Americans and other tourists have also impacted my enjoyment of Havana. Hotel rooms and casa particulares are being booked so fast now. It was a real struggle trying to find a suitable casa my last trip. Restaurants and entertainment establishments are more crowded than ever with long wait lines in some places.

I love Cuba and the Cuban people and nothing makes me happier than spending time with normal, every day Cubans while smoking a fantastic Cuban cigar.

With the vast number of Americans coming to Havana, the places I used to enjoy are now being overrun by tourists. I am seeing so many tour buses filled with Americans visiting the tobacco farms and restaurants I love.

I had a negative experience at my favourite restaurant in Havana. I was there with my girlfriend having a wonderful time, and then the tour buses pulled up. Americans and Canadians were all over the place drinking and being loud and obnoxious. They kept bumping into me and my girlfriend while we were seated trying to eat dinner until I finally decided to just leave.

That is just one experience but it happens more and more. They come to Cuba, and they try to turn what is uniquely Cuban into something American. If I wanted the experience of something American, I could just stay home.

I can’t explain the number of times I have had fellow Americans complaining of my cigar smoke in public places like paladares.

I have a suggestion to some of my fellow Americans. If you are uncomfortable with smoke, then don’t come to the cigar capital of the world.

Cuba has gotten in my blood and soul. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t wish I’m in Cuba. I can’t wait to go back and am counting down the days to my next trip in November.

Anthony Hayslett

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