The following Cuba series was written by students enrolled in Independent Study: Cuban Hospitality and Tourism Industries, a one-week intensive course taking place in Cuba over the 2016 Spring Break. As a course assignment, students were required to submit blog posts to the Tisch Center Blog highlighting each day of the trip. The following post was written by Yasha Arifin.
Cultural Preservation in Pinar del Rio and its Surrounding Areas:
On Sunday, March 13th, our group departed for the region of Pinar del Rio, where we visited Vinales Valley, one of Cuba’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Vinales Valley is a cultural landscape known for its agriculture and traditional farming techniques. The region is especially known for its vast tobacco fields, where we were very fortunate to get a first hand glimpse of the production of Cuban cigars.
After the tour of the tobacco fields, we took went on a terrace-like open spaced area that was over looking the valley. The view was spectacular and the perfect setting for a photo op. We continued our visit of the Vinales Valley with a delicious lunch by the Mural de la Prehistoria.
Mural de la Prehistoria is a massive art project done by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo. Morillo was a master of neo-caveman artistry and showcased his talent with a vibrant artwork of world history and age of humans on a rock wall. After lunch, we concluded our day with a few dips and jumps in the river before heading back to Havana.
As travel restrictions in Cuba have been more at ease due to the restored relation between the US and Cuba, tourists are flocking to the island to seek authenticity before the commercialization of American enterprises. The Vinales Valley is one of the prime examples of authenticity and experiential tourism, where visitors are given the opportunity to tour the farm and witness cigar making straight from the tobacco fields. Additionally, this is another way for visitors to immerse themselves in the Cuban culture. Interacting with the local community and gaining insights from their perspectives was a valuable learning experience that will resonate with me as I continue my studies. We tend to be blinded with one sided perception because of what the media portrays, when little do we know that the only way to obtain facts is through engagement with the other party involved. Cuba’s culture and heritage is still preserved and with the embargo soon to be lifted, it is likely that this won’t be the case in the upcoming years. The influx of American tourists is expected and exploitation is likely to happen. As a tourism management student, the Cuban government needs to implement an effective sustainable framework that draws the line between exploiting and exposing a destination. Cuba is unique because of its authenticity. With the development of new target markets, such as millennials, authenticity is what drives the yearn to travel and unveil undiscovered destinations.