Americans rushing to Cuba put the island's tourism infrastructure to the test

Posted: 28-Jan-16 16:29

The incredible surge in American travellers going to Cuba in recent months, and the even bigger wave of them expected to head there soon as more travel restrictions are furthe lifted (as of yesterday to be precise) will be pushing the island's already fragile tourism infrastructure to its limits. According to a Reuters report Cuba's tourism industry will be struggling to keep up with demand as there aren't nearly enough hotel rooms to accommodate the expected influx of U.S. travellers.

Americans rushing to Cuba put the island's tourism infrastructure to the test

As published on a recent online article by Jaime Hamre for Reuters and just over a year after new legislation was introduced by Obama to allow freer travel to Cuba for American citizens; the island’s tourism sector is showing major signs of strain as it finds it hard to cope with the unprecedented increase in demand and the record number of visitors, and not just from the US, but from all over the world.

Attracted by the explosive combination of rich musical traditions, exceptional dancing, colourful and vibrant people, amazingly preserved colonial heritage, a unique and inspiring rebel revolution, fascinating history, riveting culture and a present that still lives very much in the past (in many ways, not all) tourists from all over the world have long been flocking the island, but now more so than ever as many fear American intervention will change it forever.

This eagerness and rush to get there before its old world appeal gets modernised (or rather Americanised as many dread) is already pushing increasingly large numbers of European travellers to Cuba, whilst Canadians (who have for long remained Cuba’s number one tourism market in terms of volume) are reluctant to relinquish their favourite sun and beach winter escape.

On the American side, while once spotting an American traveller touring Havana streets was a rare occurrence, they are now swarming the island in growing numbers, along with their Canadian and European counterparts.

As American tourist Jerry Christ explains when interviewed during his trip in Havana, the sight of so many tourists was a shockingly unexpected one for him:

“I’m amazed at the fact that there are so many tourists out here. I didn’t realise the depth and the expanse of how many people from all over the world are here already, and also Americans. I have seen more Americans than I thought that I would see down here.”

The problem? Cuba (and Havana in particular) is struggling to meet with this surge in demand as there are not enough hotel beds and even "casas particulares" (the Cuban version of B&Bs) are now booked to their full capacity for months. The Cuban tourism authorities are also slow to react to this increase in demand and while there are more hotels to open in the next few years, the construction process is not exactly speedy and the number of rooms not enough to cope with the expected demand.

The island is struggling to cope with its recent close to 20 per cent spike in tourism (as of last year) and it’s showing everywhere.

The recent emergence of Cuban entrepreneurs (with their new and trendy private businesses being now part of the big Cuban allure) have had to respond to this increase in tourist visitors by increasing prices on everything from car rides to meals and even souvenirs. Those eye-catching afro-Cuban ladies dressed in traditional folkloric costumes found along the city’s most centric areas now charge $5 instead of $1 for posing to have their photograph taken.

In 2015 Cuba welcomed a total of 3.52 million visitors (over 500,000 more than expected to break their previous year record) a figure that reflects a 17.4 per cent increase from 2014 and which included a total of 161,000 US travellers – a whopping 77 per cent increase from this new market.

But not everyone is happy with this surge in tourism numbers (not even Americans themselves) as now foreign visitors face extreme difficulties to book rooms and rent cars. Ana Fernandez, a US visitor from Nashville, Tennessee expressed her disapproval of the big tourist crowds now in Cuba:

"Cuba is over the top with tourists right now. I've seen so many Americans, it's not even funny."

Another tourist, this time an European backpacking traveller from Berlin was hoping to see that Cuba everyone dreams of “before it changes” but was disappointed with the long queues at the overcrowded airport and the masses of tourists everywhere. She recalls it was she was ultimately left stranded in Havana unable to get a seat on the bus leaving towards Santiago.

"It was too much to handle, too many other tourists. We stood in line and were sent back and forth to different counters, I don't think Cuba is prepared."

Canadians, who have for decades been Cuba’s main source of tourism, are now angered at being brushed off in favour of more affluent US travellers. The best hotels in the country (mostly foreign-run ones like the Spanish Melia chain) fill up incredibly fast, leaving many out and with no other alternative but to content themselves with the smaller and more tired state-run hotels or go for rooms in private homes (casas particulares).

Many tourists have, as a result, been priced out from certain hotels, especially in Havana, where groups of elite US travellers reserve entire blocks in advance by paying higher prices. Canadian owner of Finisterra travel, Kery Montgomery says of the current situation:

"It is kind of a slap in the face as it has been the Canadian and European tourists who have helped keep the Cuban economy afloat for the past 25 years."

A year after Cuba and the US resumed diplomatic relations, it turns out there was plenty of pent-up demand from the American tourism market. Even when they can’t (not yet anyway) visit the island as mere tourists, there’s nothing forbidding them from booking a hotel room at the beach for a few days (provided they justify their visit with one of the recently extended list of authorised travel purposes).

Cuba’s tourism industry is its main economic driver, so it desperately needs to improve its infrastructure in order to make the most of this surge and cash in on the renewed interest in the island.

As it stands Cuba has a total of 63,000 hotel rooms nationwide which the government is seeking to bump up to an 85,000 total by 2020 with aid of foreign investment. However, like I was mentioning earlier, the pace is far too slow to contain immediate demand and most of the developments in place are happening at beach destinations rather than at Cuba’s main cultural hubs and cities.

The allure of tropical weather, pristine beach resorts, idyllic offshore keys, roaming classic cars and the famed fine cigars that had been strictly off limits for Americans for decades is now beckoning them back to what once was their paradise of choice prior to the 1959 communist revolution. So Cuba better shape up if it hopes to be able to accommodate them all!


Popular Holidays in cuba

OUR EXCLUSIVE DEALS AND LATEST OFFERS

Best Value

From £599 per person
villa pinares de mayari

Villa Pinares De Mayari

4.0 stars

Beautifully perched on the panoramic Mensura Hill, surrounded by striking greenery, this blessed and secluded natural...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £629 per person
villa mirador de mayabe

Villa Mirador De Mayabe

2.0 stars

This enchanting villa hotel is surrounded by exuberant tropical plants and is perfectly located in a high point towering...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
sercotel club cayo guillermo

Sercotel Club Cayo Guillermo

3.0 stars

The perfect haven for lovers of nature in its purest state, the Villa Cojimar hotel sits in an idyllic location amidst...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
club amigo atlantico guardalavaca

Club Amigo Atlantico Guardalavaca

3.0 stars

Get away to one of Cuba's best kept secrets for a dream holiday at Club Amigo Atlantico. Guardalavaca is known to host...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £679 per person
tryp cayo coco

Tryp Cayo Coco

4.0 stars

The perfect beach holiday awaits you the all-inclusive Tryp Cayo Coco hotel, where non-stop entertainment and utmost...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation
From £699 per person
memories holguin

Memories Holguin

4.0 stars

Enjoy a perfect beach setting while you unwind in the historic sands of the all-inclusive Memories Holguin. A short...

Included
  • Flight
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Representation

More deals


Explore cuba your way

Tailor made cuba holidays

For those who prefer to travel at their own pace or to explore places not included in the brochure itineraries, we have years of experience at organising tailor-made holidays.

Create the perfect trip with the help of our specialists

Our expert tour consultants will be pleased to suggest ideas to complement your own and to organise the most appropiate programme to suit your interests, time and budget.

Call 0207 644 1600
to speak with our award-winning travel consultants.

If you would like a member of our team to contact you back, please click here Contact us