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Defending Cuba…and My Story

December 9, 2009 By: Joe Pike

I love my readers and appreciate all comments, good or bad. But I felt I got some unwarranted heat from three readers regarding my recent on-site coverage of Cuba. I felt I owed it to myself and the great destination of Cuba to post a response.

Warning: I’m not exactly the gentleman my colleague Kirk Cassels is when he tackles his responses weekly, so excuse me for being a bit harsh.

First, let’s take a look at each of my haters’ rants and then I will proceed to respond:

Mark Mc
Learn about Cuba? What? This agent knows all I need to know about Cuba - enough to never recommend it to any of my clients. Could you recommend a destination where you are advised to bring your own toilet paper? Where you might not have electricity 24 hours a day? Where the only citizens you will see smiling are those whose raft is ready to set sail for the Keys? The only thing that is acurate about this story is that a five star "resort" in Cuba maybe equal to a three star in the US. That is a gross understatement. I don't need to know ANYTHING else about this country that I have not known thru history and current events. No thanks. This agent will not be recommending or booking Cuba.

First off, Mr. Mc, if you’re going to claim my story is “inaccurate,” please try to spell “accurate” properly. Second, you sound pretty hostile. Just because we aren’t allowed to visit there doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to spend a vacation.

In fact, tourism in Cuba attracts more than 2 million people a year. Before 1959, tons of U.S. visitors took advantage of the country’s close proximity and with roughly 40-minute flights from Miami, we expect them to again when restrictions are lifted.

"Could you recommend a destination where you are advised to bring your own toilet paper?

Every hotel I stayed at here, every restaurant I dined at and every nightclub I visited, had toilet paper and clean bathrooms. Cuba may be a poor country, but its facilities are rather clean. Maybe this is why you should do what every agent does and not rely solely on history and current events.

“Where you might not have electricity 24 hours a day?”

Okay, this wasn’t entirely wrong. But I can say in my six days in Cuba (or at least while I was awake), there was an electricity issue only one time. The power went out for one minute at a restaurant I was eating at in Havana.

“Where the only citizens you will see smiling are those whose raft is ready to set sail for the Keys?”

This is completely ignorant. Every Cuban who dealt with tourists during my visit there—merchants, street vendors, musicians, hoteliers and more—all welcomed me with open arms and plenty of smiles, most not even knowing I was a writer.

Now, this is an impoverished country, so of course you’re not going to see people doing cartwheels in the streets. How is this any different from the Dominican Republic or Jamaica? These are both destinations that are populated with the less fortunate, but it doesn’t mean the tourism industry in these destinations carries the country’s burden on its sleeves.

And last I checked, there were plenty of Mexicans looking to get out of the country, too. Does that mean you don’t send your clients there either?

“I don't need to know ANYTHING else about this country that I have not known thru history and current events. No thanks.”

Wow, what a nightmare the travel industry would be if every agent did this. My coverage was supposed to be an insider’s look at a place agents can’t visit yet.

With that said, we always encourage agents to see a destination first before selling or not selling a destination.

Mark, I’m sure this is something out of “How to Be a Successful Travel Agent 101.” Experience is what sells a destination. We try to be at the places you can't go to, but if you determine whether a getaway is good or bad based on history and current events, then you probably aren’t doing very well.

“This agent will be not be recommending or booking Cuba.”

Well, “this agent” might not be in business for that long. Wow, how noble of you. You can stay put and be proud of your patriotism while the rest of the U.S. agents are taking advantage of the 5 million-plus tourists that are probably going to rush that place as if it were Black Friday at Wal-Mart.

“I agree 100% with previous comment.”

Fine, Elwin, then all of my above remarks are directed at you as well. Thanks for the passionate response.

J August
“What a pile of hooey, whoever wrote it spent more time on the internet than in Cuba.”
“Majority of rooms are not in Northern Havana and there are 1.5 golf courses in all of Cuba, one 9 hole in Havana and one 18 hole in Varadero and Hemingway hung out at the Floridita.”

Okay, not bad, J August. If it weren’t for the fact that you used the word “hooey,” I think I could’ve respected you a bit. Unlike the other two comments, it sounds like you put a little thought into this at least.

You are right. I was incorrect by stating most rooms are concentrated in Northern Havana and I was also misled to believe there were an array of courses in Varadero (both statements have since been amended online). In that sense, I did the opposite of what you claimed. I relied too much on my on-site reporting and not enough on Internet reports. Having said that, the golf course I mentioned can rival any course in the Caribbean.

The one portion of your comment I did have a problem with, however, was “Heningway hung out at the Floridita.” What a shocker, J August, that Hemingway, a well-documented alcoholic, hung out in more than one bar in Cuba! Thanks for the huge scoop. Let me guess, Scores isn’t the only strip club Howard Stern ever visited?

Sure, you may be right that he drank at Floridita, but that doesn't mean I was wrong when saying he frequented La Bodeguita del Medio as well. Or, perhaps the T-shirt I bought with a Hemingway quote on the back was a grand scheme to make tourists think he hung out there, just as the framed, handwritten note by Hemingway hanging in the center of the bar was or the photos plastered on the wall of the famous author drinking there. Heck, if a bar went through this much trouble to trick me, I respect the con enough to have a mojito there.

Now, I love a good debate. So, please keep the comments coming. J August, good job. The other two? Not so much.

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