Several forecasts suggest that Cuba could end 2015 with 3.5 million tourists having arrived on the island, almost 20% more than last year’s figure and a number never before reached in such a short period of time.
A detailed analysis shows an increase of half a million visitors to Cuba over the last 12 months. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, other destinations in the region have failed to achieve numbers even remotely similar.
With hotels fully booked, especially during the famous “tourist high season,” private Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) are fast becoming a necessary option, complementing the country’s state owned accommodation facilities.
As part of the updating of the Cuban economic model, the development of some 14 non-state tourism activities, such as lodging, gastronomy and other services, is underway through links with tour agencies such as Cubatur, Havanatur and Cubanacán.
Private B&Bs have existed on the island since 1997. According to José Aguilera, travel director of Cubanacán, Pinar del Río branch, the opportunity for owners to establish contracts with state agencies provides additional revenue and is a way of guaranteeing more lodging options and greater recognition.
Such is the case that, according to official statistics offered by advisor to the minister of Tourism, Sabino Pardo, of the around 19,000 B&Bs in Cuba, 13,700 receive visitors through their affiliation with state tour agencies.
The top five strategic tourist destinations with the highest number of B&Bs are: Havana, Sancti Spíritus, Santiago de Cuba, Pinar del Río and Matanzas.
Meanwhile, Mayabeque and the Isle of Youth Special Municipality stand out as the areas with the fewest private lodging options. Meanwhile, Pardo reported that there are more private than state accommodation facilities in Viñales, Trinidad and Camaguey.
Given the swell of foreign visitors to Cuba and the increase in those seeking city holidays, the contribution of private B&Bs is will continue to be vital, the advisor noted.
In order for contracts between private owners and state entities to be signed, the former must have valid documentation, adhere to tax regulations and provide rooms which meet international standards of comfort.
The expert highlighted that all self-employed workers are offered free training in basic aspects of tourism across Formatur centers nationwide, as well as specialist courses for which they are required to pay.
For Francisco Martínez de Osaba, B&B owner in Viñales, these private homes offer tourists the opportunity to learn about the culture, lifestyle and traditions of the Cuban people.
The homeowner explained that some regions have insufficient hotel capacity to satisfy demand, thus private lodgings relieve pressure on the state entities.
He likewise noted that “the B&B lodging option is becoming more common and in many cases, the clients prefer to stay in homes rather than hotels.”
In this regard, Sabino Pardo noted that there are tourists who opt for a more personalized service and family environment, which a 400-room hotel can not provide.
In particular, collaboration with the state helps B&Bs with promotion and assists those with more than one room, given that they can cater for groups of tourists, Martínez de Osaba highlights.
Although timely payments to proprietors must improve, Pardo notes that the Ministry of Tourism is currently reorganizing structures linked with all sector workers, in order to guarantee tourist offers.
Pardo concluded that as soon as is possible, self-employed individuals will be able to access a wholesale market, helping to make their businesses sustainable.