Tourism in Cuba
Tourism in Cuba is an industry that generates over 3 million arrivals per year, and is one of the main sources of revenue for the island. With its favorable climate, beaches, colonial architecture and distinct cultural history, Cuba has long been an attractive destination for tourists. Having been Spain's last, oldest, and closest colony until 1901, in the first part of the 20th century Cuba continued to benefit from big investments, creation of industries, and immigration. Its proximity and close relation to the United States also helped Cuba's market economy prosper fairly quickly. As relations between Cuba and the United States deteriorated rapidly after the Cuban Revolution and the resulting expropriation and nationalisation of businesses, the island became cut off from its traditional market by an embargo and a travel ban was imposed on U.S. citizens visiting Cuba. The tourist industry declined to record low levels within two years of Castro's accession to power. By the mid 1960s the Communist government had banned and eliminated all private property, outlawed the possession of foreign currency, and eliminated the tourist industry all together.
Until 1997, contacts between tourists and Cubans were de facto outlawed by the Communist regime. Following the collapse of Cuba's chief trading partner the Soviet Union, and the resulting economic crisis known as the Special Period, Cuba's government embarked on a major program to restore old hotels, remaining old pre-communism American cars, and restore several Havana streets to their former glory, as well as build beach resorts to bolster the tourist industry in order to bring in much needed finance to the island. To ensure the isolation of international tourism from the state isolated Cuban society, it was to be promoted in enclave resorts where, as much as possible, tourists would be segregated from Cuban society, known to as "enclave tourism" and "tourism apartheid". By the late 1990s, tourism surpassed Cuba's traditional export industry, sugar, as the nation's leading source of revenue. Visitors come primarily from Canada and western Europe and tourist areas are highly concentrated around Varadero, Cayo Coco, the beach areas north of Holguín, and Havana. The impact on Cuba's socialist society and economy has been significant. However, in recent years Cuba's tourism has decreased due to the economic recession, escalating foreign investment conflicts and fears, and internal economic restrictions. Since its reopening to tourism in the mid 1990s Cuba has not met the projected growth, has had relatively little restoration, and slow growth. A lack of foreign investment has also had a negative effect. Since then, the Dominican Republic has surpassed Cuba in tourism, new development, and investment.
Cuba has long been a popular attraction for tourists. Between 1915 and 1930, Havana hosted more tourists than any other location in the Caribbean. The influx was due in large part to Cuba's proximity to the United States, where restrictive prohibition on alcohol and other pastimes stood in stark contrast to the island's traditionally relaxed attitude to leisure pursuits. Such tourism became Cuba's third largest source of foreign currency, behind the two dominant industries of sugar and tobacco.
A combination of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the end of prohibition, and World War II severely dampened Cuba's tourist industry, and it wasn't until the 1950s that numbers began to return to the island in any significant force. During this period, American organized crime came to dominate the leisure and tourist industries, a modus operandi outlined at the infamous Havana Conference of 1946. By the mid-1950s Havana became one of the main markets and the favourite route for the narcotics trade to the United States. Despite this, tourist numbers grew steadily at a rate of 8% a year and Havana became known as "the Latin Las Vegas".
Immediately upon becoming President of Cuba after the Cuban revolution of 1959, Manuel Urrutia ordered the closing of many bars and gambling halls associated with prostitution and the drug trade, this effectively ending Cuba's image as a hedonistic escape. A new governmental body, the National Institute of the Tourism Industry (INTUR), was established to encourage more tourism; taking over hotels, clubs, and beaches making them available to the general public at low rates. Tourist board chief Carlos Almonia announced a program of huge investment in hotels and the creation of a new airport. But fears of Cuba's post-revolutionary status amongst Americans, who constituted 8 out of 10 of visitors, meant a rapid decrease in travel to the island.
In January 1961, as relations between the nations deteriorated, tourism travel to Cuba was declared by the U.S. State Department to be contrary to U.S. foreign policy and against the national interest. Tourism that year dropped to a record low of a mere 4180, forcing a dramatic downsizing of Cuba's tourist plans. Visitors to Cuba during the 1960s, 70s and 80s were comparatively rare. The number of tourists to the island did increase slowly, but it wasn't until 1989 that they were to equal pre-Revolutionary numbers.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused a crisis in the Cuban economy. The Soviets were Cuba's chief trading partner, and had effectively sheltered Cuba's sugar industry with large subsidies for 30 years. The lack of economic diversification during this period, and the sudden loss of key markets sent the country into a deep economic depression known in Cuba as the Special Period. The crisis precipitated an urgent need to find new avenues of national income.
Policies were drawn up to satisfy the growing tourist markets of Canada and Europe with an aim to replace Cuba's reliance on the sugar industry and gain much needed foreign currency rapidly. A new Ministry of Tourism was created in 1994, and the Cuban state invested heavily in tourist facilities. Between 1990 and 2000, more than $3.5 billion was invested in the tourist industry. The number of rooms available to international tourists grew from 12,000 to 35,000, and the country received a total of 10 million visitors over that period. By 1995 the industry had surpassed sugar as Cuba's chief earner.
Today, travelers from around the world visit Cuba, arriving primarily via charter airlines to one of Cuba's seven main airports. By far the largest number come from Canada, where arrivals have been increasing by almost 10% annually since 2007. Europeans follow next, primarily arriving from Great Britain, Spain, Italy, France and Germany. According to the official government agency, it is unknown exactly how many Americans travel to Cuba each year as tourists, in violation of U.S. trade policy.  According to some statistics around 20,000 to 30,000 Americans illegally travel to Cuba every year, while the Cuban government puts it higher at over 60,000. Americans usually reach Cuba via flights from Canada or Mexico.
Foreign investment 
Foreign investment in the Cuban tourism sector has increased steadily since the tourism drive. This has been made possible due to constitutional changes to Cuba's socialist command economy, to allow for the recognition of foreign held capital. By the late 1990s, twenty five joint foreign and domestic venture companies were working within Cuba's tourist industry. Foreign investors and hoteliers from market based economies have found that Cuba's centralized economy and bureaucracy has created particular staffing issues and higher costs than normal. An additional factor cited by foreign investors is the degree of state involvement at the executive level, which is far higher than average.
The influx of foreign capital, and associated capitalist management methods, led outside observers to question whether Cuba's socialist system could survive the resulting transformation. Fidel Castro responded in 1991,
"In the conditions of a small country like Cuba... It is very difficult to develop... relying on one's own resources. It is for this reason that we have no alternative but to associate ourselves with those foreign enterprises that can supply capital, technology, and markets."
Castro was also of the belief that despite the undeniable influence of "capitalist ideology", socialism would prevail both in Cuba and the wider "battle of ideas".
Tourism and the environment 
The Cuban government has established safeguards designed to ensure that tourism and other development do not result in significant environmental impacts. The development of new tourist facilities and related infrastructure in Cuba must, among other things, proceed in accordance with Cuban environmental laws and policies. In 1994 the Cuban government established the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) and in 1997 the National Assembly has enacted Law 81 of the Environment, one of the most comprehensive "framework" environmental laws in the region. Pursuant to that Law, the government adopted a number of decree laws and resolutions aimed at ensuring that future development (including tourism development) is sustainable. Of particular importance to tourism development is Decree Law 212,Coastal Zone Management, which establishes setbacks and other siting requirements for new facilities in coastal areas. CITMA Resolution 77/99 requires a thorough environmental assessment of major new construction projects and requires that project developers obtain an environmental license from CITMA.
Health tourism 
As well as receiving traditional tourism revenues, Cuba attracts health tourists, generating revenues of around $40m a year for the Cuban economy. Cuba has been a popular health tourism destination for more than 20 years. In 2005 more than 19,600 foreign patients traveled to Cuba for a wide range of treatments including eye-surgery, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinsons disease, and orthopaedics. Many patients are from Latin America although medical treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, often known as night blindness, has attracted many patients from Europe and North America.
Some complaints have arisen that foreign "health tourists" paying with dollars receive a higher quality of care than Cuban citizens. Former leading Cuban neurosurgeon and dissident Dr. Hilda Molina asserts that the central revolutionary objective of free, quality medical care for all has been eroded by Cuba's need for foreign currency. Molina says that following the economic collapse known in Cuba as the Special Period, the Cuban Government established mechanisms designed to turn the medical system into a profit-making enterprise, thus creating a disparity in the quality of healthcare services between Cubans and foreigners.
Casas particulares 
In the context of tourism a private residence in Cuba converted to allow paid lodging, usually on a short-term basis, akin to bed and breakfast residences elsewhere, is usually referred to as a "casa particular", which simply means "private house". They are typically a single-family residence, and are a very popular choice for tourists. Prices can range from 15 to 30 euros per night, or less for longer stays; the casas provide a more inexpensive option for young or independent tourists. A stay in a private casa allows tourists more opportunity to mix with local Cubans, and engage in Cuban cultural life.
Impact on Cuban society and tourism apartheid 
Cuba's tourism policies of the early 90s, which were driven by the government's pressing need to earn hard currency, had a major impact on the underlying egalitarianism espoused by the Cuban revolution. Two parallel economies and societies quickly emerged, their demarcation line was represented by access to the newly legalized U.S. dollar. Those having access to dollars through contact with the lucrative tourist industry suddenly found themselves at a distinct financial advantage over professional, industrial and agricultural workers.
Bar staff, hotel receptionists and taxi drivers became the coveted occupations in urban Cuba and, by 2006, permission to operate a private taxicab service could cost up to $500 in bribes. Musicians have also found a radical shift in their economic status. El Nuevo Herald reported that the $200 a month one band percussionist receives in tips performing to tourists in Old Havana is more than 30 times what he would receive from the Cuban government for the same work.
To ensure the isolation of international tourism from Cuban society, it was to be promoted in enclave resorts where, as much as possible, tourists would be segregated from Cuban society. This was not lost on the average Cuban citizen, and the government tourism policy soon began to be referred to as "enclave tourism" and "tourism apartheid".
In 1992, as Cuba entered the period of severe economic austerity, Fidel Castro defended the newly instituted policies in a speech to the Cuban National Assembly. He described the moves as an economic necessity that would need to be maintained for as long as the country had a need for foreign currency. According to Castro, the government was "pondering formulas" that would allow Cubans to use some of the tourist facilities as a reward for outstanding work, but believed that giving Cubans access to amenities at the expense of paying foreign tourists would ultimately be a counterproductive move for the economy; "For every five Cubans staying two or three days in one of those hotels, the country would have one less ton of meat to distribute to the people".
Until 1997 contacts between tourists and Cubans were de facto outlawed, and Cubans seen in contact with tourists were regarded as potential thieves by police. Global human rights groups complaints, and the upcoming visit of Pope, helped cause an about-face, although such contacts are still frowned upon, with standard harassment such as police identification checks for any Cuban seen in contact with a tourist common. Tourist identification is usually not checked unless the tourist has dark skin and is mistaken for Cuban. Despite the restrictions, average Cubans thrive on Cuba's tourist industry, and many simply see the policy as inevitable.
Jineterismo, the sex tourism industry in Cuba, has been closely associated with tourism apartheid; with some claiming that the only Cubans allowed into the resorts as a group were prostitutes, the jineteras, whilst the Cuban government claimed that its restrictions on Cubans were part of its policy to combat prostitution and hustling. According to Elisa Facio, the government turns "a blind eye in hopes the dollars jineteras earned would help overcome the Revolution's worst economic crisis.
Colin Crawford, of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, has suggested that tourist apartheid might become a permanent regression to the pre-revolutionary state of Cuban society, while Saundra Amrhein and Tamara Lush point out the irony of the situation: "That tourism has brought exclusive resorts, segregated hotels and a general playground for foreigners swinging through the island looking for Caribbean romance. Ironically, these are precisely the circumstances the revolution worked 40 years to erase."
The policy of restricting certain hotels and services to tourists was ended by the government of Raúl Castro in March 2008. As well as officially allowing Cubans to stay in any hotel, the change also opened access to previously restricted areas such as Cayo Coco. However, access remains very limited in practice, as the vast majority of Cubans do not have access to the hard currency needed to stay in such hotels.
See also 
- International Tourism and the Formation of Productive Clusters in the Cuban Economy Miguel Alejandro Figueras
- Hugh Thomas, Cuba the Pursuit of Freedom
- Richard Gott, Cuba a new history
- One Caribbean - 2004 Cuban tourism statistics
- Corbett, Ben (2004). This Is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives. Westview Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-8133-3826-3.
- Rennie, David. Cuba 'apartheid' as Castro pulls in the tourists, The Daily Telegraph, 08/06/2002.
- Espino, María Dolores. PDF (234 KiB), Proceedings of the Annual Meetings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), Volume 10, August 3–5, 2000.
- International Tourism and the Formation of Productive Clusters in the Cuban Economy Miguel Alejandro Figueras
- History of Cuba written and compiled by J.A. Sierra
- Revolution to revolution: why is tourism booming in Cuba? Chandana Jayawardena
- Tourism Development for the Cuban Economy. Rockefeller center online.
- http://www.one.cu/aec2010/esp/15_tabla_cuadro.htm Cuba National Office of Statics
- Hotel and the enormous tourism developments in Cuba Cornell University.
- Gunn, Gillian. PDF (82.5 KiB), Georgetown University Cuba Briefing Paper Series, "Tourist Apartheid", January 1993.
- Daniel J. Whittle, et al., International Tourism and the Protection of Cuba's Coastal and Marine Environments, in Tulane Environmental Law Journal, Volume 16, Summer 2003.
- A Novel Tourism Concept Caribbean News Net
- Cuba sells its medical expertise BBC News
- Miami Herald October 7, 2007, retrieved Oct 11, 2007
- Cuban Medicine Today by Dr Hilda Molina Center for a free Cuba - link fails 16.9.06
- Cave, Damien. Tourism apartheid in Cuba, Salon.com, February 6, 2002. Retrieved July 10, 2006.
- Ternto, Angelo : Castro and Cuba : From Revolution To The Present p114
- Facio, Elisa. During the Special Period, Global Development Studies, I, 3-4 (Winter 1998-Spring 1999), 57-78. Republished in DES: A Scholarly Journal of Ethnic Studies, Volume 1 Number 1, University of Colorado Department of Ethnic Studies.
- Farah, Douglas. Catering to Foreigners Instead of Cubans Puts Castro on Defensive Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, August 9, 1992.
- http://www.miami.com/mld/elnuevo/news/world/cuba/16032860.htm Cuba: dólares ahondan las diferencias de clase El Nuevo Herald
- Amrhein, Saundra and Lush, Tamara. The 'reality tour' of Cuba, St. Petersburg Times, May 12, 2002.
- Crawford, Colin. PDF (134 KiB), Working Paper No. 04-10, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, October 2004.
- Cubans allowed to stay at tourist hotels Sydney Morning Herald - March 31, 2008
Further reading 
- Traveling to Cuba is like Going Back in Time by Peter Coyote, San Francisco Chronicle, February 26, 2009
- The Next Vacation Hot Spot: Cuba? by Rick Seaney, ABC News, March 11, 2009
- Cuba's Revolutionary Mountains by Zoë Barnes, The Sunday Times, March 15, 2009
- New Resort Area a Touch of Paradise by Monica Zurowski, Canwest News, March 17, 2009
- American Tourists at Home in Cuba by Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2009
- Looking for the Real Cuba by Matthew D. LaPlante, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 2, 2009
- Warming to Cuba by Catherine Watson, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2009
- Cuba's so Hot it's Cool: Island's Look Ranges from Quaint Retro to New and Upscale by Damien Jaques, Journal Sentinel, June 6, 2009
|Wikivoyage has travel information related to: Cuba|
- The Cuban Portal of Tourism
- Cuba: Close, but no Cigar for U.S. Tourists by USA Today
- Apartheid in Cuba: news