News and Facts about Cuba

Cuba’s private sector braces for US tourism boom

Cuba’s private sector braces for US boom
By Rigoberto Diaz

Havana (AFP) – Cuba’s nascent private sector is bracing for an influx of
visitors should the US ease, but many businesses in the
communist country appear unprepared for a torrent of tourists.

Currently, most hotels, guest houses and restaurants in Cuba are
state-owned, though the number of private enterprises has grown in
recent years.

“We’re not prepared,” said restaurateur Enrique Nunez, speaking at
Cuba’s most famous privately owned eatery, La Guarida, where
“Strawberries and Chocolate” was filmed.

“Not in our ability to accommodate an increase in the clientele, nor in
terms of the quality of what we have to offer,” he added.

But he said that would soon change.

“People will wake up quickly and start to excel, start to offer what
people want,” Nunez said, speaking at the in a crumbling
Havana building, where photos of Uma Thurman, Benicio del Toro and Jack
Nicholson hang on the walls.

On Wednesday, US Barack Obama announced a historic
breakthrough between Cuban-US relations, moving to revive diplomatic
ties and ease a trade embargo, ending 50 years of hostility between the
former Cold War foes.

View gallery
Cuba’s tourism minister estimates that a million additional tourists
could come to the island an …
The breakthrough could also mean an easing of existing restrictions.

Every year, more than 90,000 US citizens travel to Cuba, despite
restrictions on how much they can spend and on the Cuban products they
can bring home.

That figure is likely to swell once the Obama administration eases
restrictions on the 12 categories of people currently allowed to travel
to Cuba, such as US-based relatives of residents of the island.

It will require an act of Congress — which will be Republican-dominated
come January — to repeal the economic and travel embargo entirely.

– Generous but demanding –

Cuba’s tourism minister estimates that a million additional tourists
could come to the island annually, on top of the three million that
already visit each year from all over the world.

View gallery
Every year, more than 90,000 US citizens travel to Cuba, despite
restrictions on how much they can s …
But restaurant manager Jorge Fernandez said a sudden flood of visitors
would create a challenge for the Cuban private sector.

“Because although American tourists are very generous, they are very
demanding,” he said, speaking at the privately owned La California
restaurant in Old Havana.

“At the same time, it would be a big opportunity to strengthen a sector
that survives with little income,” he said, noting that Cuban businesses
have little access to wholesale markets and often have to pay high fees
for equipment and raw material.

As part of the thaw, Obama authorized the sale and export of certain
“goods and services” to the Cuban private sector, which could be a boon.

The private sector is supported by 450,000 self-employed entrepreneurs,
known as “cuentapropistas,” compared to five million civil service
workers in a country of 11.1 million.

Nunez, speaking from a private dining space in La Guarida, said despite
his reservations about the private sector’s capacity, the changes
announced last week are “encouraging.”

He said the embargo “is not sustainable for the people of the United
States, nor for the people of Cuba.”

Cuba’s has been slowly opening since the fall of the Soviet
Union, and private businesses — namely restaurants — started
multiplying in 2008 after introduced economic reforms.

That was important for the tourism sector, which is Cuba’s third biggest
earner, bringing in $2.5 billion annually.

Restaurant owner Carlos Marquez said most entrepreneurs in Cuba stand to
benefit from the thawing of relations with Washington.

He is hopeful that easing the embargo will only be a good thing for
business at his La Commercial San Cristobal diner in downtown Havana.

“We’ll have to see how things go, but everything Obama said benefits
us,” Marquez said.

Source: Cuba’s private sector braces for US tourism boom – Yahoo News –;_ylt=AwrBEiJfY5lUMBkAGlHQtDMD

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