The Cuban Government Defends Waste in Tourism Even if It Doesn’t Benefit Other Sectors

Tourists ride through Havana in an ’almendrón’ [classic American car]. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, February 7, 2024 — A few hours before the start of State TV’s Round Table program, where the Minister of Tourism, Juan Carlos García Granda, was scheduled to attend, the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal asked a very direct question on the social platform X. “Could the Minister of Tourism report the rates of tourism in Cuba that justify it as the locomotive of growth?” In case the Minister had doubts about how to perform the calculation, the expert attached an image of the matrix.

Monreal, like most Cubans, wonders why the Government continues to consider tourism as “the locomotive of the Cuban economy” when there is not a single fact to support this. He asked for the figures to be made available that illustrate how much the development of other sectors is helped by investments in tourism and vice versa. Of course, if the Cuban tourism authorities have the figures, they won’t facilitate this or release them, although they keep repeating the mantra.

“Tourism cannot advance or survive without the national economy. There we include everyone who participates in some way, providing supplies and services so that operations and investments can take place,” said María del Pilar Macías, general director of Operations and Quality of the Ministry of Tourism, who accompanied García Granda and provided some generic figures.

According to her accounts, 69% of the sector’s purchases are made from the national industry. “We see the productive chain with a greater vision. It sells itself and satisfies other sectors’ needs.” The official said that there are 259 tourist facilities linked to 1,111 “productive forms,” which contain 379 private producers “who have even designed their growth to guarantee hotel facilities; that is, they consider tourism.”

Her assessment is positive, since, in addition, it avoids imports and their costs. “You get it faster and you don’t fall into the issue of shipping companies, which to get to Cuba  must practically go around the world, which causes many delays,” she stressed. Among the novelties of those “chains” is the development of recycling industries, an issue that was previously ignored but that gains importance for international hotel companies, such as Meliá and Iberostar, which are subject to environmental commitments.

“We are starting a program to replace overused plastic. There is also productive chaining, and we have industries responding, such as Ciego Montero, in the production of soft drinks”

“We are starting a program to replace overused plastic. There is also productive chaining, and we have industries responding, such as Ciego Montero, in the production of soda.” The same happens, she added, with dispensers that will replace cans and bottles, reducing the use of plastics and waste. “Los Portales made its line for concentrated soda, and Bucanero expanded to dispense beer,” she said.

The Government seems interested, possibly, in the prospect of being part of the network of Smart Tourist Destinations – with Cayo Largo del Sur as the first declared goal – by meeting the sustainability objectives required to earn the seal. Last night on television, a rural tourism plan to transform farms for agrotourism was also presented.

The goal is, in any case, to reactivate a sunken sector, since, as García Granda himself acknowledged, “at a global level, the tourism industry is recovering, with a tourism boom in countries such as Spain, Europe and the Caribbean.” He does not feel unsuccessful, despite the poor data of the Island – which closed 2023 with 2,436,980 international visitors, 42.8% less than in 2019 and 31% below its aspirations – since, he said, “no other country develops its tourist activity in the same conditions as Cuba.”

The minister summarized the list of damages of the US embargo, including the most recent measure to suspend the ESTA (visa waiver program) of those who have traveled to Cuba since 2021, although the only one of the aforementioned affronts that seems to have repercussions based on data is the ban on cruises from the United States. The rule was approved by Donald Trump’s administration in June 2019 and maintained by Biden. It prevents, according to García Granda, the arrival of at least 1.2 million tourists. The data is exaggerated considering that in 2018, an excellent year for the sector on the Island, approximately 850,000 Americans were received in this way, although the hole in the accounts is real.

Other problems exist, the minister said, in the lack of resources that prevent adequate promotion, as well as the scarce availability of fuel for internal flights and excursion boats. Despite everything, Cuba invested money in airport improvements, as published this Wednesday in Granma. The amount spent, ranging from improving the runways to safety devices and facilities, is not specified.

The low occupancy rate indicates not only a large excess of capacity but also a monumental waste of investment

“The official statistics indicate an inconsistency between the very high relative weight of investment associated with tourism that has a low occupancy rate and that coexists with the low and decreasing weight of agricultural investment in a country with food insecurity,” Monreal reproached in his analysis. The figures, summarized in a graph that reflects the obvious disproportion between spending and the decline in tourism, are overwhelming. “The low occupancy rate indicates not only a large excess of capacity but also a monumental waste of investment. What is the rationality of having invested billions of pesos to continue creating an excessive supply of hotel rooms?” he asks.

For 2024, the Government proposes to have 3.2 million tourists and an increase in flights to the Island. The minister indicated that “it has been possible to establish air connections with 32 countries through 50 airlines, with an average of 579 weekly frequencies. In 2019, there were 764 weekly frequencies, although a large part of them corresponded to flights from the United States.” If those numbers are true, Cuba now has 24.21% fewer frequencies than in 2019, faced with the fall of tourism by 42% with the same year.

Later, however, he pointed out that the improvement in the number of travelers is due to the increase in flights “despite having only 47% of the frequencies that existed in 2019.” There doesn’t seem to be anyone who can calculate Leontief’s index* for Monreal.

*Leontief’s input-output models divided the economy into sectors where each sector’s production helped the others.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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