Cuba Tour Guides need a New Solution to an Old Demand

Cuba invested 533% more in tourism than in education, health and agriculture in 2023

HAVANA, Apr. 18th In September 2021, a group of tour guides went to Cuba’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security to demand that this activity be withdrawn from the list of services banned in the private sector.

A Decree-Law from that same year lists a series of jobs (mostly professions), which were not authorized for self-employment licenses, and Tour Guide was one of them.

La Joven Cuba wrote about this subject in an article published on October 7, 2021, called: Tour Guides, an updated demand.

The response to this appeal, signed by the Minister of Labor and Social Security, Martha Elena Feito Cabrera, came on December 28, 2021 and reasserted the ban. The arguments put forward by the official revealed little objectivity and reasoning and included accusations of malpractice.

Today, when it’s clear that the tourist industry isn’t taking off, and that the target of 3.5 million visitors for this year is looking more and more remote; tour guides are still waiting for the corresponding authorities’ confidence so we can contribute with our work to bring in the revenue that the country needs, just like every other private activity does.

A few days ago, in an analysis of tourism development, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero pointed out that “ways of doing things” need looking at and alternative solutions need to be found within the sector to recover pre-pandemic levels.

Holding the same position and rejecting the figure of the Tour Guide as a self-employed worker (especially now that new lawmakers have just been elected to worry about the country’s economic future), the ministry in question would be contradicting the Prime Minister’s discourse and rejecting the sector’s need to include other actors to increase the number of tourists.

(Photo: Hostertur)

Is the solution to leave the sector’s fate exclusively in the hands of large Travel Agencies and put the brakes on a genuine, noble enterprise with huge potential?

In the above-mentioned meeting, some attendees raised reasons why both forms of tourism management can coexist. Furthermore, they explained that a mass migration of workers to the private sector wouldn’t be logical or feasible, even though they can understand the institution’s reasonable fear of this possible outcome.

The number of visitors recorded in the past few years, along with the country’s systemic crisis and the consequences of giving the green light to a new self-employment activity, shouldn’t represent the tour guide’s divorce from their employment agencies. On the contrary, tour guides could also assist these agencies as part of their work.

Complimenting one another, they could increase numbers and significantly improve the quality of Cuba as a tourist destination. The recent approval of taxi driver licenses and the model implemented in this case could be a basis for analyzing how to address the Tour Guide issue. But it’s insane to carry on refusing a negotiation of ideas and plans.

It’s logical to assume that group tourism, the traditional form of tourism where tour guides work in Cuba, brings in great revenue in the country, so diversifying the management model could mean greater competition and a drop in revenue collected directly by the State.

It was suggested at this meeting that the debate be extended and negotiate the scope of this new model if approved, taking into account the maximum number of clients, service conditions and the State’s other interests.

Experts from the Ministry of Tourism present explained that one of the reasons for their visits to the Caribbean’s tourism region had been to see how tour guides acted in each of their respective forms and what requirements were needed to approve this. This whole issue is still pending a postponed but necessary debate, at a time when the country is crying out for change in economic strategy.

What they need to understand once and for all is that the world has changed as a result of the pandemic, and travelers with better financial means have also changed the way they plan their trips. We can’t assume that tourists want to visit a region in the world in large groups like they used to.

No state agency is ready, nor do they have the personnel they need to deal with thousands of tourists in a smaller

If they aren’t ready, motivated, or focus on this individual market; the eyes of potential visitors will focus on neighboring markets that are in better health.

Solving these problems would positively impact attracting clients. This goes hand-in-hand with all of the possibilities a new diversified effort might develop, in the guides’ eagerness to create, innovate, gain recognition and raise their wages, as well as being disengaged from the usual red tape and bureaucratic dynamics of travel agencies.

The crisis in Cuba today is another reason to keep in mind because if this demand is approved, we are talking about a higher income for an important group of professionals.

Meanwhile, benefits will extend to an entire chain of suppliers and local development projects, to name just a few. Not seeing the situation like this is to deny a necessary opening to economic activity and an essential source of revenue.

You can’t ask people to be innovative in the search for resources and solutions and then keep an economic actor with their hands tied and limited to only working for a few travel agencies, concentrating on “Group” tourism.

Tour Guides, as self-employed workers, would complement the demand that already exists in Cuba as a tourist destination, could create new products, and contribute significantly to the State budget – which is talking about financial strain at the moment.