14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 January 2016 – The noise of the rain mixed with the sounds of the clerk complaining because the cash envelopes were overflowing because they can’t cope with “so many Cuban pesos.” The scene is repeating itself lately at the Cubatur tourist office in the Habana Libre Hotel, with the authorization to allow payment in Cuban pesos for package tours focused on the Cuban market.
The measure has not yet been extended to all places in the capital offering accommodation and trips to different destinations in the country, but in several provinces it has been in effect since the beginning of 2016. In Havana, in addition to being able to pay with both currencies – the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP), also known as “national money” – in the so-called “Hard Currency Collection Stores” (TRDs), you can now rent a room in a hotel or pay for an “all-inclusive” excursion.
Over the last eight years – before that Cubans were not allowed in tourist hotels and resorts – customers were forced to change their Cuban pesos into convertible pesos to make tourist reservations, a procedure which lengthened the process and generated unnecessary inconvenience.
The new flexibility, however, makes even more evident the imbalance between the wages paid to Cubans and the prices they have to pay to vacation in their own country.
On Saturday a couple was inquiring at the Cubatur office in the Habana Libre Hotel about prices in national money for trips to the tourist beaches of Cuba. At the Iberostar Varadero hotel, 2,850 Cuban pesos was the cost for one night, all inclusive, “although you will have to arrange your own transportation,” the clerk told them.
For 2,550 Cuban pesos the stunned lovers could afford a night at the Melia Sol Palmera, also in Varadero. The price amounts to little more than 100 CUC [roughly $100 U.S.], but expressing that figure in the same currency in which wages are paid leaves many with a bitter taste.
“That’s my salary for five months,” the young man told this newspaper. “Only when you see it in the same currency do you realize that the prices here are crazy,” he said. Nevertheless he pulled the money out of his wallet and 10 and 20 CUP notes, to the annoyance of the clerk because she didn’t have any place to store so much “old money” and complained about it.
Since March 2008, when Cubans have been allowed to stay in the country’s hotels, domestic tourism has experienced sustained growth and now Cubans are the second largest number of visitors to Varadero, exceeded only by Canadians.
The sale in national money of different tours and accommodation is also carried out in the Cubatur offices in Camaguey and Santa Lucia, according to Jorge Alvarez, director of the agency there, who spoke to the local press.
So far the measure has been well received, as it avoids unnecessary inconvenience. Alvarez added that the travel provider Havanatur also recently expanded its options available in national money.
In 2014, 1,208,123 Cubans stayed at hotels in the country, according to the National Tourism Report, Selected indicators, January-December 2014, published by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information. The document also details that these national customers spent more than 147 million CUC in tourist facilities.