Cuba set to unify its whole travel sector
Between the 1970´s and early 1990´s the Cuban government had just one tourism travel agency called INTUR. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, with a national eye on increasing tourism revenue, the then president, Fidel Castro, allowed various entities to sprout into life, each spearheaded by one ministry or another vying to capture tourism dollars to finance national projects. This brought about the creation of now well known entities such as as CubaTUR, Havanatur, Cubanacan Viajes, Gaviota, etc.
However, we are told that Lourdes Sierra, the comercial director of FITUR, Cuba´s annual tourism trade fair for sector professionals, will reveal in January 2013 some significant changes to the structure of Cuba´s travel industry. For some Cuba watchers the changes already began “quietly” several years ago when Havanatur, Cuba´s largest travel agency was taken from under the CIMEX corporation umbrella and directly placed under the control of Cuba´s tourism ministry. Similar moves took place with the varied car rental companies such as Havanautos, CubaCAR, REX which were all united under one corporate structure called Transtur and again, placed under direct control of Cuba´s travel ministry MINTUR. In fact, unlike travel ministry´s around the world which tend to be “not for profit” promotional body financed by the government, Cuba´s MINTUR has turned into the defacto “Cuba Travel Inc” to which all entities are united and then managed, centralizing all income into one gargantuan stream. Since being moved from Cuba´s military by Raul Castro, Manuel Marrero Cruz was named Minister of tourism in February 2004 and, since then, the “decentralization” of Cuba´s travel sector halted and then switched into high speed reverse. In fact, today´s travel sector resembles more the soviet era INTUR than the hugely liberalized sector it was becoming in the 90´s and early 2000´s.
Of course, restructuring and trimming expensive administrative “fat” from Cuba´s overstaffed and under producing government entities has become president Raul Castro´s main agenda. He has not hidden his disdain for bloated government entities, synonymous with Cuba´s socialist past. Removing the Cuban populations “cradle to grave” ideology has been high on Raul´s agenda in just about every speech he has given. Lamenting the inefficiencies and promising change, a refreshing change from the “everything is great under socialism” style speeches from Fidel.
Getting back to the changes Lourdes Sierra is likely to announce in the presence of Manuel Marrero Cruz on 30th of January 2013. We are told we can expect a completely revised makeup which will eliminate the individual (and costly) representative agencies such as Havanatur, CubaTur etc. Don´t expect these names to vanish though, like past changes of this nature, the familiar names will probably continue to exist as brands but, all decisions and contracting will be done from Cuba´s tourism ministry instead of via the individual presidents of these, soon to be eliminated, entities. Some foreign owned agencies told us that Lester Felipe Oliva, Cubatur´s president, has already begun to inform “certain” foreign agencies that their future representations could be in jeopardy come 2013 when CubaTUR is set to be dismantled.
Insiders from CubaTur claim that the Cuban government is only preparing for an inevitable change in 2013 which includes Obama being reelected and a widening liberties in Cuba´s travel sector for US visitors. A change that will mean that long standing allies in the travel sector from Canada and Europe with be “surplus to requirements” as millions of Americans scramble to see a land that for so long has been a forbidden fruit. Signs of this certain eventuality has created deep resentment in the expat travel community in Cuba´s capital city Havana because, as if by magic, as soon as Obama liberated American people-to-people visits in January 2011, the Cuban government slapped an outright ban on every Canadian, European and international agency represented in Cuba, prohibiting them from dealing with this new market. One Canadian agent based on the island since 1994, made her outrage known in some recent blog posts. However, essentially, it’s simply a case of economics for the government. With fewer rooms available than the latent American demand, why offer commissions to foreigners when a newly centralized cash machine called MINTUR can handle all the bookings by itself?
Yes, there´ll be no medals for “long standing service” nor “exceptions” offered to long time travel allies, some of which have been helping Cuba cultivate its tourism sector for over 3 decades. For some of these people, being banished from Cuba´s travel sector under the banner of “no longer required” will be a hard pill to swallow. The bitter taste of this proverbial pill is already inducing outspoken and, sometimes, critical statements from the expat community.
2013 should prove to be an interesting year…maybe not adios but hasta la vista…