Safety Draws Tourists to Cuba

June 15, 2017 |

By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Safety is one of Cuba’s greatest tourist attractions, especially when we compare this to other countries within the region, where violent crimes have increased even above the Latin American average, which are already high enough as it is.

The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Suriname are some of the countries that have the highest crime rates in the Caribbean, according to a study conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank, based on a recent regional survey.

The most dreadful thing, though, is that violent crimes are on the increase. While the assault and threat rate stands at 4.7% in Latin America, this shoots up to 6.8% in the Caribbean. A third of the interviewees stated that they had lost someone close to them to violence.

It’s very unusual that these crimes affect the 26 million visitors who go to the region every year, but they find themselves forced to stay within tourist zones a lot of the time, a kind of luxury ghetto, where they can only imagine the country that has taken them in.

Unlike other places in the Caribbean, the Cuban police are an ally of those who work in the national tourism sector. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

I have spoken to some tourists and one of the greatest surprises they have when they arrive in Cuba, is the freedom of movement that they can enjoy here. They are surprised at the fact that they can go out at any time of day or night without running the risk of being assaulted or attacked.

Not too long ago, we published an article about a Mexican woman’s impressions when she came to Cuba as a tourist. I also met some Venezuelan pilots who were amazed that they could walk through the city’s streets at night… unarmed.

It could be said that Mexico and Venezuela are quite extreme cases as they suffer high levels of violence but the truth is that even some US tourists can’t believe that they can sit on the Malecon seawall in the early hours of the morning without the fear of being attacked or assaulted.

In their case, this feeling is reinforced by the vision created in their own country about Cuba. They bring such low expectations that it’s wonderful when they discover they can move freely about, meeting a happy and open people, eating in decent restaurants and connecting up to the WIFI on the Malecon.

Of course, there are also complaints. They have to wait hours for their baggage at the airport, nearly as long as they do to be served in restaurants. Standards of cleanliness in some hotels leave a lot to be desired and the constant cancellation of “Cubana Airlines” flights causes huge annoyance among travelers.

Visiting Cuba gives travelers a feeling of peace and tranquility which is hard to find at other tourist destinations. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Cuba still has a lot to learn about how to treat tourists. Turning off the air conditioning in airports or turning it on but keeping it at the bare minimum, is saving a few cents but losing millions at the same time. Every visitor that returns to their country speaking badly about Cuba will influence everyone around them.

The good news is that the Tourism Ministry has announced that it will create a committee, headed by the minister, Manuel Marrero, where eight other ministries will also take part. If this sector really becomes a motor for the economy, it needs to be firmly linked to the rest of the carriages.

A comprehensive vision should include sea, air and land transport; the airport; customs; immigration; culture, health, activities outside hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, day-trips, nature parks and theme parks; beer and food production, as well as other consumable goods.

There’s no doubt about it, there’s still a lot to fine tune in order to make Cuba’s tourism industry as efficient as the ones in other tourist countries and regions. The advantage of arriving to the tourism scene late is that there isn’t a lot left to invent, all Cuba has to do is study what has worked and hasn’t worked in those countries which have had the best and worst results.

Many visitors who come from countries with high violent crime rates find it incredible that they walk along the Malecon at any time of day or night and have some drinks right there while talking to Cubans.

Along the path to improving its services, Cuba shouldn’t lose sight of its current charms and the greatest one it has, which differentiates it from the rest of the Caribbean, is public security. It might seem like an objective they’ve already reached, but maintaining it is just as difficult as achieving it.

Tourism is a dairy cow which gives milk to the macro-economy and also to private restaurants and bars, taxi-drivers and their mechanics, rental owners, craftsmen, guides, waiters, cooks, fishermen, farmers, building and maintenance brigadas, and all of their employees.

As well as its indirect benefits, tourism contributes many millions of USD which travel directly into the Cuban people’s pocket. The number of Cubans who receive a better income thanks to this sector is growing every day, so maintaining a peaceful environment should be in everyone’s best interests.

 

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  • Moses Patterson

    Fernando writes “… tourism contributes many millions of USD which travel directly into the Cuban people’s pocket.” True but misleading. While there are increasingly more privately-owned restaurants and casa particulares, the overwhelming majority of the nearly $5 billion in tourism revenues Cuba receives goes to the Cuban military.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Cubana Airlines is a GAESA subsidiary with military trained pilots. If its level of efficiency is as described, imagine what the army is like! MININT levels of maintenance were demonstrated during the tour of Eastern Cuba of Fidel Castro’s ashes when the ‘jeep’ bearing the ashes broke down on the third day and had to be pushed by the MININT goons.
      Fly Cubana?

      • Cubana is much the same as the other airlines flying to Cuba. I understand the aircraft are actually maintained by a Spanish outfit. They use Airbuses planes for Canada but understand have Ilyushins for Europe.

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          Which other “much the same” airines are military owned and flown by military trained pilots?
          I agree that all the airlines land at military controlled airports in Cuba – yes even Jose Marti!

          • Caroline I was referring to service. Ownership is irrelevant. Actually many airlines use military trained pilots

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            “Ownership is irrelevant.” ?

        • Moses Patterson

          Nooooo! Martin, have you flown Cubana? The seats are always broken, the fan never works, the bathrooms don’t even have the right size toilet paper so it won’t fit on the roll, and so on. I have heard that the long intercontinental flights are slightly better. I have flown many, many flights on Cubana but only from one end of Cuba to the other or from Cuba to Mexico. I have seen worse airlines but Cubana is bad, very bad.

          • Eden Wong

            “… Martin, have you flown Cubana? The seats are always broken, the fan never works, the bathrooms don’t even have the right size toilet paper so it won’t fit on the roll, and so on…”

            That’s true for short haul flights that are operated by Cubana directly, absolutely not true for their long haul international flights though. The flights from Canada are excellent, as is the one from Colombia which I take fairly often.

          • Moses Patterson

            I acknowledged which flights I was referring to.

          • CErmle

            Sound like you don’t get out much.

          • Moses Patterson

            Your comment makes no sense. But I am happy to compare passport stamps with you any time.

          • Rich Haney

            According to you, Moses, everything about Revolutionary Cuba is “bad, very bad” regardless of what Fernando Ravsberg or anyone else says. I guess that is meant to imply that everything about the Batista-Mafia dictatorship was “great, very great.”

          • Moses Patterson

            Your assumption is patently false. What I believe is NEARLY everything about the Castro revolution has become bad, very bad. I oppose all dictatorships, including Cuba’s dictatorship which preceded the current one.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            There you go again Rich Haney with your Batista fixation. We all know he like all dictators, was a bad egg. The current Castro family dictatorship is different because it affects the lives of Cubans right now, not sixty years ago. The best thing dictators can do is to die.

      • Rich Haney

        Now, Carlyle, tell your choir about Cubana Flight 455…because, after all, that still today remains the most historic Cuban airplane, doesn’t it?

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          If you had opened your eyes and your mind, you would have read here in Havana Times, my views of US history related to Cuba – and indeed the rest of the Americas. Your problem Rich Haney is that your mind closed around about 1965 and you lost all contact with the reality of Cuba and the conditions imposed upon the Cuban people – not by the US, but by the Castro communist regime.

    • Rich Haney

      Amazing, Moses, that you and other anti-Cuban propagandists have so much trouble accepting any positive statement regarding Revolutionary Cuba. Amazing!!

      • Moses Patterson

        The Castros managed to not screw up Cuban cigar production and classical ballet in Cuba has also managed to survive the Castros destructive leadership. So you see, there’s two positive statements about the Castro regime.

  • JennyC

    Very good article with many important points! I completely agree that the safety afforded to tourists in Cuba is invaluable and must be maintained.

  • Sandra Rae

    We have been to Cuba many times over 20 years. We have always moved around freely and felt safe. Havana is a city though and requires paying attention, and caution. Canadians are used to public areas being safe and is one of the main reason so many of us travel to Cuba.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      You are correct Sandra in speaking of the safety in public areas in Canada, but it also applies in general in the UK. Prior to accompanying my Cuban wife to the UK – her first ever flight and first ever visit to another country, one of the cultural facets which I explained to her was that in the UK, the police serve the public and it was doubtful if she would even notice them. I did so, because we had been stopped by the State police who serve the Castro poliitical regime, so many times especially when in Havana.
      Similarly when the following year she eventually obtained a visa to visit Canada I promised her that she would not be stopped by the police – if she even saw them. In both cases I was correct. Now after a total of well over six months in Canada, she has yet to meet a police officer.
      That freedom of movement you experience as a tourist in Cuba, does not apply to Cubans themselves. Cubans need to obtain a permit to move to live in Havana. My wife and I have experienced being ejected by security from the Tropicana Hotel in Playa del Este because she is Cuban. We have been stopped literally dozens of times when travelling too and from the airport by Taxi particular (a 1955 Dodge), and too many times on the street!
      Just be happy as a tourist and grateful that you are not Cuban.

      • CErmle

        They had good reasons to stop you, and you know it.

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          You mean that because we are of different colour we ought to be stopped? Unlike you CErmle, I believe that as a husband and wife going about our legal business we ought not to be harassed by the State Police.
          Pray explain to everybody what were the: “good reasons to stop you” (my wife and I)?
          Justify your comment or putting it bluntly: Shut up!

          • CErmle

            It had nothing to do with your wife. Your own history is the problem.

          • Carlyle MacDuff

            The State Police have no more idea of my history or my appearance than you do CErmle – in short they are ignorant! You really are desperate in your verbal distortions.
            My wife and I get stopped because we are black and white – we were ejected from the Tropicoco (not Tropicana) Hotel at Playa del Este because my wife is a black Cuban, if she was white the so-called ‘security’ would not have intervened. You obviously have not experienced and do not comprehend racism which is rife in Cuba. The Castro regime for example provides ‘official figures’ that only 9.9% of Cubans are black. do you believe that?

      • Rich Haney

        Amazing, Carlyle, that you and other anti-Cuban propagandists have so much trouble accepting any positive statement regarding Revolutionary Cuba. Amazing!!

        • Carlyle MacDuff

          I am not anti-Cuban and you Rich Haney, cannot illustrate otherwise! I I am opposed to communism and dictatorship – which you so obviously support being imposed on others whilst sheltering in the capitalist world.
          In my comments I related actual experience in Cuba, something which you are obviously unable to do.

  • Sky

    1. ” Cuba still has a lot to learn about how to treat tourists. Turning
    off the air conditioning in airports or turning it on but keeping it at
    the bare minimum, is saving a few cents but losing millions at the same
    time. Every visitor that returns to their country speaking badly about
    Cuba will influence everyone around them.”
    Seriously? I would suggest that if the tourists that are coming are so whiny that they can’t cope with no or little aircon once in a while, they need to get a grip. Air con does not just cost a few more cents but takes from the available electricity supply for all, not just tourists.

    2. “As well as its indirect benefits, tourism contributes many millions of
    USD which travel directly into the Cuban people’s pocket. The number of
    Cubans who receive a better income thanks to this sector is growing
    every day…” True. But the level of taxes is relatively high so the government is winning big time while offering NO support to the new cuenta propriatistas. Also their tourist related activity takes their skills away from the normal economy, for example teachers are declining in numbers due to lack of pay let alone any increase in pay.

    3. Very severe penalties such as 25-year imprisonment are meted out to anyone who dares attack a tourist with a view to robbery or assault but this does not stop such incidents from occuring. As has happened just a couple of weeks ago to someone I know, minding her own business, returning to her casa particular in a block of flats, who was the victim of an attempted rape. When she fought him off, he proceeded to beat her so severely that she had to have two brain scans and two weeks later still has a black eye. All in leafy Vedado.

    4. Based on what I have seen over the past 27 years, hIgher tourist safety will no doubt entail a commensurate increase in police harassment of ordinary Cubans, both male and female, going about their daily lives.

    That is a high price to pay.

    • Ken Hiebert

      Sky says,”…I would suggest that if the tourists that are coming are so whiny that they can’t cope with no or little aircon once in a while, they need to get a grip. Air con does not just cost a few more cents but takes from the available electricity supply for all, not just tourists.”

      Of course Cuba has the right to ration electrical power as they see fit. But in my view, it is not useful to tell tourists what they must accept. Some will respond positively, but some will take their money elsewhere.
      We must remember that most tourists do not feel a special attachment to Cuba. They are just looking for a pleasant holiday. Cuba has many positives, but we are not doing Cuba any favours if we don’t tell them about the negatives.

    • Eden Wong

      1.) “… Seriously? I would suggest that if the tourists that are coming are so whiny that they can’t cope with no or little aircon once in a while,
      they need to get a grip…”

      Agree or disagree, it’s a fact. Very few foreign tourists want to sit waiting for their luggage while they sweat their butts off. The expectence of air conditioning at some places in a tropical location is completely normal for many tourists and that’s an integral part of the tourist industry.

      2.) “… Also their tourist related activity takes their skills away from the normal economy, for example teachers are declining in numbers due to lack of pay let alone any increase in pay…”

      That ship has long since sailed and it’s 100% impossible to reverse now. You will never return to the “good old days” when teachers really were teaching. The system has failed and there’s no going back.

      3.) “… Very severe penalties such as 25-year imprisonment are meted out to anyone who dares attack a tourist…”

      This is one of the most commonly repeated urban myths about Cuba and why it keeps getting flogged over and over is beyond me. A snatch and grab thief will never see more than a few months in jail, and even then
      that’s only if the tourist was injured.

      And yes, crimes of opportunity are common in the so-called “real” Cuba but it’s still (almost) impossible to get murdered, car jacked, raped or robbed with severe injury unless you’re really unlucky or really, really stupid. Even thought the safety situation is MUCH worse than it was 10 – 15 years ago, Cuba in general and Havana in particular is still one of the safest Latin destinations on the planet by any measure. It’ll be a sad day when Cuba finally catches up to its neighbours.

      4.) “… Based on what I have seen over the past 27 years, higher tourist safety will no doubt entail a commensurate increase in police harassment of ordinary Cubans, both male and female, going about their daily lives…”

      That’s a fact of life. That harassment has (unfortunately) saved many a dumb/naive tourist to this point.

      Happy travels.