Cubans Flock to Their Beaches Before Americans Ruin Them

I very much look forward to Cuban modernizing.. for the sake of the Cuban people. Remember that however quaint walking back into the 1950s may be as a tourist, the people of Cuba have been forced to live without the benefit of many of the advances of technology that we too easily take for granted.

Nonetheless, Cuba travel serves as a reminder of how different life is over such a short distance. Miami and Havana are 235 miles apart, about the distance between Dallas and Austin, or Washington DC and New York, but the lives of people differ markedly. Go and think about the differences in institutions in place between the two countries. Cuba has had the benefit of subsidies from the Soviet Union and from Venezuela during the existence of the current regime. Despite US trade sanctions it has had trading relations with much of the world. And yet living standards have remained below not just the US but Caribbean counterparts as well.

Many US tourists want to go before Cuba ‘changes’ which is to say they want to see the poverty before the Cuban people benefit from development. (Here’s What You Need to Know When Planning a Trip to Cuba)

The surprising thing is — the Cuban people want to see their country before it changes, too! Only the change they’re worried about is foreigners bidding up prices.

Cubans are flocking to the beach in record numbers before a possible end to the US travel ban that would open the gates to American tourists and bump up prices.

Until 2008, the Communist government banned Cubans from tourist hotels. Since then, the industry has been shocked at how many Cubans check in: 1.2 million permanent Cuban residents last year, up 23 percent from 2013.

…Experts say many of those visiting beaches and hotels are able to afford it because they receive money from relatives living abroad, especially in the United States.

…Despite the domestic tourism boom, a weekend at Varadero is still out of reach for the majority of Cubans on a state salary that averaged USD$24 per month in 2014.

…”With the basic Cuban salary, you could never even dream of having a vacation with your family. Never,” said Irenia Gomez Oviedo, a cashier. She said she and her family were able to spend two nights in Varadero thanks to money from her father, a private business owner.

Even with the help, they had to save for a year to pay for the all-inclusive hotel at a rate of USD$50 per night, she said.

The Cuban government also wants to put its best foot forward to foreigners, especially as Cubans are allowed to stay at the same resorts as foreigners.

In a clear sign of the changing times, state television news recently ran a segment informing Cubans of the proper etiquette for staying in the same resorts as foreigners.

“Keep voices low, don’t smoke, and don’t litter,” the newscaster said. “Hopefully when visitors return home they can say they saw more than beautiful beaches and classic cars; hopefully they can say how well-mannered Cubans are.”

This reminds me of visiting Beijing in 2008, in advance of the Olympics. There were signs everywhere reminding the Chinese people to be polite, “The World is Watching!” the billboards would say. Oddly, they’d say it in English, so I wondered whether the audience was more tourists who were supposed to believe that the government was taking steps to be welcoming.

The world is, indeed, watching.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Great Article on Cuba. Cant wait to go there. My father was 100% Cuban and looked and spoke like Ricky Ricardo.

    Mentioning that the water is not safe to drink, I always bring my Berkey sport bottle with a filter in it. You can get them on http://www.berkeywaterhawaii.com and guess what? They offer frequent flier miles with each purchase.

  2. Miami v Cuba, no brainer. Concrete jungle full of violence and loud people v a beach place where people are friendly and not loud.

    I have dreaded the day Americans are allowed back into Cuba so they can wreck it like they have wrecked Florida and the rest of the Caribbean. Has anyone been to Cancun lately. WTF! What is this obsession of Americans to change everything about these beautiful places so they are just like every other loud, redneck American beach resort? It sickens me.

    Fortunately I have been to Cuba 3 times for extended periods in the past 8 years, so have been able to see it before it gets wrecked by loud Americans and their obsession with concrete.

    So sad. I wish you would just stay away but Americans won’t be able to help themselves. Wreck it, wreck it, wreck it.

  3. Just reading your opening para, just wreaks of American arrogance. “For the sake of Cuban people…” how bloody arrogant mate, you assume we all want to live like Americans with your guns, your murders, your loudness, your debt, your out-of-control cops.

    We actually don’t want that and after being in Cuba 3 times for extended periods ( you haven’t ) I can tell you, not all Cubans want America in the place. In fact, they can think of nothing worse than having loud, obese, gun-toting Americans there. Look what America has done to Puerto Rico.

    “They want to see the poverty…..” the hide of you, the arrogance is breathtaking. Have you been to Los Angeles, Chicago, St Louis recently? I have, and I cannot believe the poverty, the squalor, the homelessness, the killings especially the way your cops target blacks. Is that what you will do in Cuba too. Send a few cops down there and you can wipe out the blacks down there too.

    So look in your own backyard first if you want to look at poverty. My goodness me, I am totally stunned by your article. Stick to travel commentary, that’s what your site is great for and avoid showing off your sheer American arrogance when it comes to social issues.

  4. Well said Gary. That you welcome the change for the people there. They have been exploited for so long. Ive been a few times, and it is sad. Ive always thought it was so selfish many people saying, “you should go before it changes” implying let’s keep them oppressed for as long as possible for voyeurism tourism.

    You show your unselfish and caring side Gary, and I for one applaud it.

  5. So much negativity here… unwarranted mostly. Having traveled all over the world, I’d say that people that destroy their country the most are the locals.

    A place starts to develop a little, and all of a sudden, the locals get greedy, see nothing but green, start building with no regard to anything else. I’ve seen it many tropical places around the world.

    Will Americans ruin Cuba? Most definitely not. Cubans will ruin Cuba. Can you blame them? Of course not; after years of struggling, the prospect to make some money and lead a much better life is enticing enough to all to drop everything they’re doing and to make sure they make that money.

  6. “Many US tourists want to go before Cuba ‘changes’ which is to say they want to see the poverty before the Cuban people benefit from development. ”
    This sounds stupid. Is there any data to support this?
    It’s more reasonable to imagine that they want to experience the culture and a system before the country changes. Czechoslovakia in 1987 was very different from Czechoslovakia in 1993. I don’t know anybody that went to Czechoslovakia in 1987 to experience poverty. However, the cultural and political changes were dramatic and in my view, capitalism completely altered the country (eventual countries). They had no idea what would hit them. This can be said about most former Soviet allies. My impression, having visiting this page every now and then, is that cultural experiences are not at the top of your travel priorities. And this is reflected in this piece.

  7. Lots of assumptions and stereotypes – in the post and the comments – regarding Cubans and Americans both.

    Whether Cuba changes or not is pretty much entirely up to Cubans. Cancun was mentioned, but it was Mexico that developed the area into what it is today to draw tourist dollars – no one forced it on them.

    Same with Cuba, if hotel prices rise, for example, it’s because the owners (gov or private) decide to raise them because they think/hope they can get people to pay it. If the government in Cuba eventually allows or initiates beach resorts and such, it will be because they choose to do so.

  8. “Many US tourists want to go before Cuba ‘changes’ which is to say they want to see the poverty before the Cuban people benefit from development” – What a load of nonsense. I don’t know what agenda it is you’re trying to push with your other posts about Cuba, but I won’t be reading your blog any longer to find out.

  9. Any intelligent free future Cuban government will seek to preserve those aspects that are attractive, while developing policies that ensure better lives for the people. Kind of idealistic, I know, but tons of opportunity if done right.

  10. “Nonetheless, Cuba travel serves as a reminder of how different life is over such a short distance. ” people around the world have different values, and seems like you are blindly trying to judge everything only by American values

  11. @MFK is another name for a troll commenter who reads the blog regularly. And often says s/he won’t continue reading, but clearly does.

    I find it very interesting when people:
    – say they find something problematic but not why
    – say they won’t read anymore because they disagree, I actually find opinions different from my own interesting and to be one of the ways I learn.

    YMMV, of course!

  12. @ABC wrote “It’s more reasonable to imagine that they want to experience the culture and a system before the country changes” EXACTLY and that ‘change’ is from super low incomes and lack of modern technology.

  13. @DA I am not sure how saying life is different over short distances supports your claim, or why you think the Cuban people are happier subjugated by a totalitarian government, or why you would take a moral relativist approach to a country that would put AIDS patients in what were essentially concentration camps through the 90s?

  14. @Gary, I have a bone to pick with you and others who subscribe to the premise of your opening paragraph.

    “I very much look forward to Cuban modernizing.. for the sake of the Cuban people. Remember that however quaint walking back into the 1950s may be as a tourist, the people of Cuba have been forced to live without the benefit of many of the advances of technology that we too easily take for granted.”

    Ha ha. Really? Sorry to be sarcastic, but think about it. So somehow Cubans have been suffering because they don’t have many of the advances of modern technology. Many if not most Cubans probably like their life just fine and think we are the ones who are suffering in many ways. Surely in your travels you have seen many countries where people lack the latest technology but live wonderful lives. Other than advances in medicine, one could argue that technology has not made life better, or at least there are pros and cons on that point. I think life 50 years ago was great, and I do not feel I’m suffering because I don’t have access to the technology that will be available 50 years from now.

    Where I think the Cuban people stand to improve their life is, over time, greater freedom of expression, assembly and association and eventually ending the one-party rule system. More tourism and hopefully the lifting of the trade embargo when the Republicans come to their senses can benefit Cubans by encouraging free enterprise and entrepreneurship and lifting the standard of living. Cubans can get along just fine without Google glasses, ipads and twitter. We could learn a few things from them.

  15. You don’t seem like the sort of person who would gratuitously insult someone to their face so I wonder if you completely miss the degree to which the statement “Many US tourists want to go before Cuba ‘changes’ which is to say they want to see the poverty before the Cuban people benefit from development” is personally insulting to your readers who may have visited Cuba.

    In fact, you have no knowledge whatsoever of the motivations of people who visit Cuba. I can think of many different reasons that people might visit Cuba, poverty tourism is relatively low on the list. It’s likely that you can experience living conditions as bad as what you will see in Cuba with 15 miles of your home; I know that I can. Your experience of America is not everyone’s experience, your imaginary view of Cuba is not anyone’s reality.

    People who visit Cuba no more deserve your condemnation than you deserve theirs when you pay $75 to hire someone to take you to the local food stall in Sri Lanka.

  16. @LarryInNYC I’m reacted to stated motivations that I see repeated constantly, and drawing out the implications. That’s not an insult. I have no problem with people who visit Cuba! I do think folks out to think about what it means to lament ‘how Cuba will change’.

  17. @John Cubans have lived under the boot of a regime that has kept them poor for a very long time. It’s patronizing to assume they ‘like it’ when they haven’t been permitted to leave…

  18. @ Robo and others seemingly outraged by Gary’s comments.

    Seriously? What the hell is wrong with you? Get a life. Which is what the Cubans might finally get. No…. I don’t think the US is the promised land, it has a million problems. I actually lament daily how bad some aspects are, but Im thankful I’m not a Cuban citizen living a hard, hard existence.

    I have been multiple times, Have you??? I saw tears in the eyes of the people, trying to tell me the hardship that they live under a hugely oppressive regime, raping them with taxes and extreme rules.

    The US hasn’t helped with embargo and isolation tactics, that’s about to change it seems. I ask you again, have you been, have you seen it for your own eyes? If not, you aint qualified to attack Gary.

    F’in trolls.

  19. @Gary, I agree that Cubans live under the boot of a totalitarian government and need certain basic human rights as I stated in my comment. But I think it is patronizing and wrong to suggest that Cubans do not like their life or a suffering because they lack the latest technological gizmos, which is what appears to be the premise of your opening paragraph

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