June 15, 2021

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Cuba bets on a new way of doing tourism | PRESENT

HAVANA – Forget about strolling down the Malecon in a classic car or walking through the alleys of Santiago.

With the cases of the new coronavirus reduced every day on this island of 11 million inhabitants, the government is committed to a new way of doing tourism that allows it to generate the vital income of this sector and protect its population from the advance of Covid-19.

For this, Cuban officials designated five cays as the entire vacation spots including that they will be isolated from the rest of Cuba.

"A protocol will be applied at the border," warned Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, who explained that the first vacationers will not come on commercial flights – currently suspended – but on charters. [19659002] The authorized keys will be Coco, Guillermo, Cruz, Largo del Sur and Santamaría. In the case of the latter, which depends on the Villa Clara airport, visitors will be driven on buses guarded by police, they will not make stops -or to go to the bathroom, Marrero explained- and once at the hotel they will be monitored again. [19659002] Those who test positive for the virus will be isolated, but the details of where or if they will be returned home are not clear.

These visitors will not be able to rent cars or go to cities and their only approach with Cubans will be employees of the hotels that will work protected by masks seven days in a row and then rest another week in isolation.

Officially, this modality will begin on Wednesday, July 1, but there is no indication of which tourists will arrive immediately. Canada – the main source of travelers to Cuba – remains closed and the European nations have severe restrictions.

"We have no immediate plans to start operating flights to Cuba, however, we hope that the restrictions will soon begin to ease", said to The Associated Press Sunwing, Canada's largest travel provider in a written statement.

As in the other Caribbean islands, Cuba's economy is largely based on tourism, although it also receives income from the export of professional services -especially medical- and remittances, at the same time as it depends on Venezuelan oil.

In 2019 tourism left Cuba – to the already incipient state sector private – about 4,000 million dollars in estimated no officials thanks to the arrival of some 4.2 million travelers.

After years of almost zero growth and the impact of United States sanctions – increased by the administration of the president Before Donald Trump- to push for a change in the political model, the closure of flights in March led to the island's exacerbation of shortages and long lines to buy food, above all.

Experts consulted by AP and the Commission itself Economic for Latin America they estimated a fall between 3 and 5% of the Gross Domestic Product for 2020.

With commerce and public spaces closed, transportation and classes suspended for three months, Cuba achieved some control of the Covid- 19 with confirmed daily lows – less than five some days – and concentrated in Havana. This Tuesday, 2,341 cases and 86 deaths were reported.

The model of tourism that the authorities seek to impose is unprecedented in the recent history of the Caribbean nation. In the 1990s, access to Cubans was limited to many hotels, separating citizens from foreigners, but these restrictions were removed during the presidency of Raúl Castro in the 2000s.

The most popular destination on the island, Varadero, It will initially be available to domestic tourists – it opened on June 18 – and will later split into two when foreigners arrive so there are no contacts, officials said.

The measures are part of a three-phase plan to carry Cuba to a new normality after the strike that started in March when the first cases of coronavirus were detected in three Italian tourists.

A first phase of de-escalation applies to the entire country -with provinces that in more than a month have not reported confirmed – since June 18, except for Havana, where the situation is still complicated and mobility is limited.

“I know that there are proposals from some markets such as Canada, Portugal and Russia, ”Osnier Fonseca, commercial vice president of the Isla Azul State Hotel Group, told AP. “But they are not confirmed because it depends on the openings of the borders of their countries and the conditions (sanitary and legal) that exist. We are ready. "

Experts doubt that the tourism industry will react immediately.

" It is the classic sun and beach period, "the economist José Luis Perelló told the AP, for whom this The opening of July 1 is rather "a signal, an intention" on the part of the authorities. “But the first thing to know is who is willing to do tourism this year.”

Meanwhile, the rules of the United States sanctions prohibit its citizens from taking tourist trips and, above all, staying at beach resorts. [19659002] The crisis due to the pandemic will also extend to thousands of small private entrepreneurs, from owners of lodging houses, to taxi drivers and souvenir vendors.

"We have been closed for three months," Carlos Cristóbal lamented to the AP Martínez, chef and owner of the San Cristóbal restaurant who was one of the “paladares” who visited former President Barack Obama during his trip in 2016.

Martínez has 27 employees who are at home. Initially, he said, he will have to reduce his workforce, although his idea is not to fire anyone but to rotate them.

For their part, the foreign companies that manage most of the best hotels indicated that they do not lose hope that for the last phase of de-escalation tourists return fluently, although with security measures such as masks, social distancing and a demanding disinfection.

A tour of AP by NH Capri, one of the iconic hotels in the capital, showed all kinds of renovation and hygiene activities from painting walls and doors to plumbing and air conditioning. A sign with the slogan "Feel Safe at NH Hotels" was installed to welcome future tourists.

"The intention to travel to Cuba always persists," explained Spanish Juan Francisco Candeal, manager of the NH Capri Hotel. "Furthermore (the island) has come out reinforced from the management of the pandemic, at the health level, from the management of the situation … I think the feeling that has been transmitted is that it is a very safe destination."

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