Cuba's sustainable vision: 8 questions with Orlando from the Cuban Embassy.

Table of Contents

At Interview with TripLegend Orlando Ramos Blanco, Tourism Counsellor at the Cuban Tourism Office, tells us what sustainable tourism in Cuba looks like, what unique opportunities the country has in store for travelers and what the new #CubaUnica campaign is all about.

Interview Cuba: Sustainable Tourism
Alexander Ditzel (Co-Founder Triplegend), Orlando Ramos Blanco (Counsellor for Tourism at the Cuban Tourist Office) and Brian Ruhe (Co-Founder Triplegend) (l.t.r.) In the Embassy in Berlin

Question 1: Dear Orlando, what is your activity and what are the goals of your work? 

First of all, thank you to TripLegend and especially to you, Brian, for your professional interest in providing a specialized offer for the destination Cuba from a sustainable point of view. I would also like to thank you for your willingness to disseminate, through TripLegend's communication channels, relevant information about the recovery process of Cuban tourism after the Covid 19 pandemic.

For a little over three months, I have been working as a tourism advisor at the Cuban Embassy in the Federal Republic of Germany, a responsibility that essentially involves regional representation of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism and serving a group of European, traditional and emerging source markets. This responsibility requires constant interaction with tour operators, travel agencies, airlines, tourism industry associations, service providers, trade press and other elements of the value chain, with the fundamental objective of promoting Cuba as a destination and increasing the number of trips from Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia. 

Varaderovaradero Noy4235 1
 Source: #CubaUnica

Question 2: What is the importance of tourism in your country?

As for the vast majority of small emerging island states, the development of tourism is of paramount importance for Cuba. So much so that it is recognized as the driving force of the Cuban economy. In Cuba, growth not only enhances and commercially manages the island's major tourist attractions, but also takes into account the ecological limits of environmental protection, assumes the sustainability of economic results, and promotes a sense of social justice - all aspects that are part of its sustainable character.

Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that Cuban tourism represents selective, targeted and inclusive growth, contributing both to local development in host communities and to social welfare in general. The economic and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. government, its extraterritorial nature, the strong defamation campaigns, and our own internal problems complicate and limit to some extent the implementation of these conceptual principles contained in the main program documents and in the development strategy for the Cuban tourism sector.  

This U.S. government policy prohibits U.S. citizens from tourism in Cuba. Americans can only travel to the island in a controlled manner and with a very small group of licenses approved by OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control). This policy severely restricts tourism and the influx of travelers to Cuba, as well as business transactions, airline operations, cruise ship activity, logistical insurance, access to credit, and relations with third country banks. Tourism is one of the sectors of the Cuban economy most affected by the blockade. 

The recent mention in the media of restrictions on entry into the United States for travelers who have previously visited the island, the differential treatment in the use of ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) or official visas, and all the inconveniences they entail are irrefutable proof of the extraterritorial nature of the unilateral provisions of the U.S. government against the largest of the Antilles.

The arbitrary inclusion of Cuba on the list of countries that support terrorism restricts not only the freedom of travel of Americans themselves, but also that of citizens of third countries, which is highly questionable legally, ethically and morally. The goal is quite clear: to intimidate potential travelers, put pressure on commercial partners, and affect tourism to Cuba from its traditional markets.

Cuba had not been on this list since 2015, when it was officially removed as part of a failed process to normalize bilateral relations. The new listing in January 2021 represents a unilateral and discriminatory act that includes coercive measures such as restrictions on entry into U.S. territory for travelers who have visited Cuba, in violation of the freedom of movement recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cuba will always support the right to self-determination of travelers from all parts of the world and receive them with the hospitality they deserve, in correspondence and in strict compliance with international norms, facilitating the necessary formalities for all those who decide to visit us.

Habana Noy6034 1
 Source: #CubaUnica

Question 3: What is the message and goal of the new campaign "Cuba única" (unique Cuba)?

The "CUBA ÚNICA" campaign has the fundamental objective of promoting a new image of the destination, based on the essential elements that distinguish it from the rest of the destinations in the region: the Cuban people, their character, their culture, their values; a competitive advantage that is considered by professionals as an important added value of the Cuban tourism product and one of the main attractions for the vast majority of visitors.

Therefore, the visualization of "CUBA ÚNICA" focuses not only on tourist resources associated with nature, but also on intangible elements of the country's cultural heritage, the peculiarity of Cubans and their way of life. The campaign then highlights social characteristics and values, many of which are associated with insularity, education and culture, and which are expressed in safety, hospitality, solidarity, joy and the admirable ability to face the most difficult situations with dignity and creativity.

Unlike other destinations, in Cuba travelers find friends whom they often consider their own family and for whom they return to the island again and again. Therefore, it is only fair to highlight in our promotional activity the possibility of living among us a unique and enriching experience, guaranteed by interacting with Cubans and enjoying experiences that can be unique and educational. And the fact is that it is possible to be happy with less, without adopting the consumption patterns of an increasingly globalized world.

Have Noy0621 1
 Source: #CubaUnica

Question 4: What do you think your country does well and where can it improve in terms of tourism development?

Among the most important achievements of the Cuban tourism system are undoubtedly the creation of a stable tourism infrastructure, the education and training of qualified personnel, and the gradual development of a distinct culture of hotel and other services; the number of operators has increased in recent years with the inclusion of non-state operators.

In my opinion, among the most important short- and medium-term challenges for the development of Cuban tourism are the strengthening of its promotional infrastructure and the coherent implementation of a holistic and sustainable sectoral vision that recognizes its importance as an overarching activity that can promote and challenge the development of other sectors of the national economy.

On the other hand, it will always be necessary to improve the quality standards of the tourist offer, continue to promote the development of areas other than sun and beach, progress in the digitalization of communication and distribution processes, as well as in the accessibility of tourist and support services throughout the travel cycle, among many other ways to improve the Cuban tourism product in terms of exchange rate policies and payment instruments that allow more bearable stays and contribute to an increase in revenue per traveler.

San Cristobal Noy7383
 Source: #CubaUnica

Question 5: Is sustainable tourism now fully accepted in the country? And what needs to happen to be at the forefront? 

Yes, tourism is fully recognized and accepted as a sector of the Cuban economy capable of generating not only external income, but also productive relationships, the growth of other sectors and human development in localities. Tourism continues to be our best means of communication with the world, we are an island and we are open to the world.

I can assure you that we have experienced times when Cuban tourism has been the driving force of the Cuban economy and has been at the forefront among the destinations of the Caribbean subregion and the Americas region. Unfortunately, the effects of the pandemic and the tightening of the economic blockade against Cuba continue to affect the recovery of the sector.

In order to regain this leading position among regional destinations, there is a development strategy aimed at strengthening our comparative competitive advantages while being more in line with trends in the global tourism sector. This theoretical position is of course subject to the difficulties of an operational scenario characterized by increasing practical complexity.

Terrazas Noy8414
 Source: #CubaUnica

Question 6: Tourism in Cuba declined sharply during the pandemic. Will tourism recover, and is this perhaps an opportunity for change?

The Covid 19 pandemic has crippled the international tourism sector, leading to enormous losses, the bankruptcy of numerous economic operators that make up the value chain of the tourism product, and the - in many cases definitive - retraining of specialized personnel. In our case, as an island destination, international tourism depends mainly on air connections and transport capacity.

On the other hand, restrictions on domestic mobility also prevented domestic tourism from recovering, even though demand had increased. When the health situation permitted, safe flight corridors were established connecting specific foreign markets with selected tourist hubs. Nevertheless, the effects of the pandemic were felt.

For sound security reasons, our borders were reopened to international tourism only after other regional destinations had begun operations. This global health crisis associated with Covid-19 demonstrated that no country or region was truly prepared to effectively manage health crises of this magnitude. This process of dealing with the spread of the virus then also became a learning process, a process of lessons for the systematic improvement of public policies and the Cuban economic model more broadly.

56Cayo Coco Noy1193
 Source: #CubaUnica

Question 7: Many countries are turning to the so-called digital nomads by creating the appropriate infrastructures. Cuba has struggled with stable Internet connections in recent years. How can Cuba strengthen its digital independence?

In the global age and under conditions of economic and financial deadlock, as in our case, to speak of digital independence may seem utopian. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are government programs and international cooperation projects that are contributing to the progressive digitization of Cuban society and government, despite major material constraints.

In this sense, there are two basic principles: Promoting self-development with local human capital and preserving technological autonomy. Concepts such as "smart city" and "smart destination" are gaining importance in the territorial management of historic and heritage cities. The hybridization and digitalization of processes in the Cuban business system is progressing, and some hotel chains in Cuba have developed programs for digital nomads; a product with high technical and technological requirements, where other destinations are more successful.

Question 8: If you had to explain in one sentence why people should come to Cuba, what would that sentence be?

In Cuba, like nowhere else, you will have enriching experiences that you will always remember.

Salto Del Guayabo Noy19
 Source: #CubaUnica
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