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 Sydney Montellaro.
Our first day in Varadero was chocked full of amazing resort tours along the North Western edge of the peninsula. Of the 76 resorts along the Hicacos peninsula, we visited five. We began the day at Breezes Varadero, exploring the grounds with Elizabeth, the guest relations manager. She described the nature of management contracts in Cuba, emphasizing the fact that the Cuban government must always maintain at least 51% ownership of any hotel.
Next we checked into our hotel Melia Varadero, one of four Melia properties in Varadero. We toured the grounds, learning about how renovations at the resorts in Varadero often occur on a yearly basis during the low season of May through June. Melia also offers the Level service, a more selective floor with private concierge, breakfast/snack room, and more personalized service. Though citing supplies as their biggest challenge, our guide emphasized how the joint venture between Melia and the Cuban government allows for special licensing to import things like meat and wine.
We then toured Iberostar Varadero, Blau Varadero, and Royalton Hicacos Varadero. The Varadero market is truly booming like the rest of Cuban tourism; each hotel reported over 90% occupancy throughout the year. With each new resort we visited, our group was more impressed with the quality of Cuban hotels. One interesting thing we noticed was that Cuban hotels are ranked on the basis of the amenities they offer, not the level of service or quality. For example, though Melia and Royalton were both five star resorts according to Cuban standards, the difference between them was very evident. One way that visitors can see which hotels are truly five star is by utilizing review websites like TripAdvisor. For example, our favorite and the most amazing of the hotels we visited, Royalton Hicacos Varadero, has maintained the #1 ranking on TripAdvisor for Varadero.
The main commonality between all of the hotels was the issue of consistent supplies. The embargo causes many issues with shipping and availability of resources. This challenge was reiterated in every hotel and restaurant we visited over the course of the trip, showing how big the problem truly is for Cuban businesses.