What Cuba's shortage of luxury hotels means for you

Posted: 26-Jan-15 18:05

There are currently only a few high-quality hotels in the beautiful Caribbean island of Cuba. Most of the current legal tourists are from Canada, the UK and Europe, but the island is still reliant on old, DIY and illicit infrastructure. What will happen to Cuba - and its charms - when the old US-Cuba trade embargo is rolled back and Cuba begins to develop?

What Cuba's shortage of luxury hotels means for you

Cuba is a beautiful and atmospheric island, with plenty to offer by way of sightseeing and history. When Fidel Castro came to power in the early 1960s, US trade embargoes froze it in time. Now the ice is thawing between the two countries, it's more obvious than ever how much Cuba needs development.

Despite a roaring trade, mainly from Canadian tourists but also from the UK and Europe, the island is reliant on old, DIY and illicit infrastructure. For tourists it's apparent in the lack of good-quality hotel rooms, expensive and restricted internet access, and unexciting food options. Then there's additional services like hire cars and taxis.

The tour operators hope that the "Cuban thaw" will tempt US businesses to set up shop there – and the likes of American Airlines and American Express are the latest companies to declare an interest in doing so. Canadian tour operators like Sunwing, plus other international businesses, are helping things along – but with mainland US just across the water, Cuba desperately needs its helping hand with the infrastructure.

Within the local travel industry, opinion holds that there are roughly four or five high-quality hotels in Havana, and that needs to increase to about 20-30. But before you even get to a hotel, just getting out of the airport can be challenging, thanks to a sluggish luggage and customs process. If it's struggling now, then it will likely buckle under the added pressure of thousands more tourists.

Government figures say that international tourism (with Britons making up about 150,000 of 3 million total visitors) brought in USD$2.3 billion in revenue in 2013, up from $1.9 billion in 2009. However, the number of hotel rooms rose by less than 2,000 to a total of 52,600 nationwide, although rooms in the five-star category increased.

Cuba's tourism ministry said in the state media recently that its record year in 2014 shows it must:

"…continue perfecting our work, raising the quality of the services we offer."

That means far less of a squeeze for hotel rooms, and increased quality all round for international travellers. The question that remains is:

Will Cuba lose its famed atmosphere when American commercialism hits in earnest?


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