In just a few minutes several flights have arrived at terminal 3 of Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Air France, from Paris; Air Canada, from Toronto; Copa, from Panama; Iberia, from Madrid; a Cubana Airlines flight. This is customary in any important airport in the world. But here it leads to chaos.
In front of the baggage conveyer belt there are Cubans who travelled for diverse reasons and are returning to their country; tourists of very diverse nationalities and interests; foreign residents on the island for different reasons. They must all wait more than two hours, in some cases three, to pick up their belongings dispatched in the departure desks. Someone says that the problem, tonight, has become acute because there isn’t sufficient staff and technical equipment (tractors to move the baggage containers) to attend to so many flights, to so many passengers.
But, is there always a lack of personnel and equipment? Because if something seems guaranteed for travellers arriving in Havana and bringing baggage in the plane’s hold is the long wait they will suffer in the inhospitable salons of international arrivals. Because there are no seats there to rest, there isn’t an outlet selling water, there are no smokers’ rooms, there’s no one to inform the newly arrived…. There can even be problems with the air conditioning in the middle of summer…. Moreover, the wait can be longer if the traveller is one of those who sent by the customs official to the place where the baggage is weighed or checked for any reason, even the plant health officials (food imports, etc.).
Meanwhile, I have read the report that during last July 266,821 foreign tourists visited the island, which represents a 26.1 per cent increase with respect to the same month last year. It is said that up to this month 2.1 million visitors has already arrived in the country, which is why it is expected that by the end of the year the figure of a bit over three million received in 2014 will be surpassed. The forecasts estimate that this activity will contribute 2.7 billion dollars to the state coffers, a figure in which perhaps the amount that, through taxes, the private workers related to the world of tourism will contribute is not contemplated, and which should be a respectable figure, according to what is demanded by the Tax Law in force. That is to say, it’s a great deal of money for the country.
But, together with those tourists, Cuban citizens and foreign residents living on the island (including students of diverse nationalities), in addition to diplomats and other types of travellers have also arrived in Cuba through the country’s airports. And are the U.S. citizens who are not officially, or legally (according to U.S. laws), strictly tourists included in the calculations? If the U.S. citizens, and the Cuban Americans, were not counted, how many visitors would there be? But even including them, the Cubans and the residents…who are not a few and are even more with the current regulations that allow citizens from the country to travel more easily are not part of the calculations, according to what occurs in José Martí airport – I don’t know about the situation in the others on the island, perhaps less congested. And each one of those travellers pays a tax for the use of the airport installations….
Figures aside, in the face of what occurs in everyday reality in the Havana air terminals anyone could ask…and what’s going to happen when the “American” tourists come? Because in light of the new relations between Cuba and its northern neighbour, the lifting of the travel ban that, as part of the blockade, weighs over U.S. citizens to come to the island as tourists, seems just a question of time.
The fact that the tourist industry generates high profits that the nation dearly needs and that the image of a country is also created through foreign visitors should be taken into account every time there’s a delay for passengers in the Havana terminals, every time bottled water doesn’t appear in the markets, in each hotel where the service or the products are of dubious quality. The reality tourists live is or can be the same that the potential foreign investor finds in the country. Or the wave of journalists who, right now, during Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, will arrive and will write in their media about the most diverse aspects of the country’s reality.
It is true that making investments in infrastructure (hotels, airports, avenues, transport) is a pressing need for the country which everyone recognises but which can be very costly and, at times, slow. But investing in organisation doesn’t seem that complicated. Or shouldn’t be. Was there really only one tractor to carry the baggage containers in the country’s most important and largest air terminal? Who can justify and how is a three-hour wait for baggage justified?
The quality with which what exists and what will exist is as important as the investments so that the government’s effort to modernise and make efficient the existing economic model be successful. In a sector of the universe we have been writing about on this occasion, the work of the private entrepreneurs has demonstrated a capacity and efficiency the State does not have, and that is why today many state-run gastronomic establishments too frequently languish in their solitude and quality, while the so-called paladares are reaping their fruit thanks to their efficiency and competitiveness.
In this state of affairs, I believe it is already time for those responsible for diverse sectors related to the world of tourism and other concomitants ask the question that many persons in Cuba are asking: and what’s going to happen when the “Americans” arrive? That avalanche, like hurricanes, seems to be forming and ready to start up at any minute. (2015)
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