News / Americas

Cuba Allows Tourism Industry to Hire Private Contractors

Tourists look at portraits of revolutionary leader Che Guevara at an artisans' fair in Havana, Oct. 8, 2013.
Tourists look at portraits of revolutionary leader Che Guevara at an artisans' fair in Havana, Oct. 8, 2013.
Cuba has authorized its state-run tourism industry to contract out lodgings, meals, excursions and other activities to private businesses in a boost to a growing “non-state” sector.

While the government has allowed some state contracting to private businesses since 2012, up until now the tourism industry was off limits.

Tourism is the country's largest industry, attracting 2.8 million visitors in 2012 with revenues approaching $3 billion.

The new regulations, published on Wednesday in the official gazette, authorize state-run tourism agencies to use the more than 5,000 bed and breakfasts and 1,700 private restaurants now operating in the communist-run country, as well as private entertainment and transportation.

Further, hotels and other tourism facilities can now contract with private businesses to provide meals for workers, gardening and other services.

“Cuba's tourism has been stuck in a 'state provides all' framework for years,” said Paul Webster Hare, former British ambassador to Cuba, who currently lectures on international relations at Boston University.

“As a service industry, small and imaginative often attracts tourists better than the 'one size fits all,' which has been a feature of the way the big Cuban state- and military- owned companies have run the sector,” he said.

Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, has opened up retail services to small entrepreneurs as part of a larger reform effort aimed at modernizing a Soviet-style economy where the state up until 2010 administered just about everything, down to shoe shining.

Castro is encouraging private sector growth to create jobs for the 1 million employees he hopes to slash from bloated government payrolls over the next few years. His goal is to strengthen Cuban communism to assure its future.

There currently are more than 450,000 people operating or working in small businesses, or they are self-employed, in the building trades, transportation, entertainment and other sectors, as well as more than 200 cooperatives.

State-run tourism agencies have been sounding out the owners of restaurants and small lodgings throughout the year, and many, at least in Havana, have expressed little interest, according to industry sources. They point out that individuals visiting the Caribbean island already are free to rent rooms and eat at private establishments.

Cuban economists say opening the tourism industry, however, is sure to be viewed by some as a business opportunity.

“During the tourism season the good restaurants and bed and breakfasts are usually booked solid, without having to sign a contract with the state,” said one economist, wishing to remain anonymous.

“But now, if you are thinking of venturing into the private sector, this could be an opportunity to get started,” he said.

You May Like

Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Brazil Sues BHP, Vale for $5 Billion in Damages for Mine Disaster

The damburst unleashed 60 million cubic meters of mud and mine waste that demolished a nearby village, killing at least 13 people

Brazil House Speaker Denies Bribery Reports

O Globo says investigators seize document implicating Cunha in corruption probe suggesting he received nearly $12M to support legislation favoring top investment bank

Venezuela Arrests 3 in Death of Opposition Candidate

Last week's shooting of Luis Diaz drew international condemnation in run-up to this weekend's election for new legislature

US Activist Heading Home After Serving Peru Sentence

Lori Berenson returning to New York, two decades after being found guilty of aiding leftist rebels in Peru

Pope Outlines Mexico Trip With 4 Stops, Including Juarez

Comments from pope speaking to reporters en route home from Africa on Monday confirms trip will have a strong immigration theme

16 Dead in Guatemala Prison Riot

Prison spokesman quoted as saying fighting was between members of Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs and fellow inmates who don't belong to gangs