The Central and the América, two hotels located in Santa Clara, have recognized losses during the first months of 2018 due to low occupancy rates at their facilities, which they attribute to competition from private lodgings.
Despite the increase in visitors in Cuba's third leading tourism destination, the managements of both Villa Clara establishments complained of numerous difficulties complying with the revenue plan for this year, according to the newspaper Trabajadores (Workers), chief among them being outdone by hostels.
Privately run accommodations boast "very loyal clientele," the regime's official publication concedes, and also "do not have to abide by the rules established for socialist state enterprises."
"We are obliged to compete," said Jorge Hernández, the head chef of these hotels, at a meeting with officials of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), the country's only legal union.
In the province of Villa Clara there are more than 400 hostels, mostly in Santa Clara proper, despite the Ministry of Tourism's efforts to promote the colonial city of Remedios as a destination.
Some of these ventures have devised successful image-enhancing strategies, like that of Amarillo, Bed and Breakfast, managed by Saily González, regularly promoted as "Santa Clara's first gay-friendly accommodations."
We describe it this way "for commercial reasons," Saily told Cuban alternative media about the hostel, a few blocks from the former Hotel Central. The entrepreneur does not limit herself to providing accommodations, but rather aspires to "position [the hostel] as a place offering services that are unique on the market".
Perhaps the difference between private management and the hotels run by "socialist state enterprises" lies in the ingenuity of small entrepreneurs, who manage to offer more personal service tailored to the specific needs of their guests in a city with few urban and outdoor attractions.
"The main reason to visit Santa Clara is a grave," notes Yunier, alluding to the Che Guevara mausoleum. The young man, a university graduate, helps to run his parents' hostel. "If you don't go the extra mile," he explains, "guests just hit the road the day after they arrive."
Faced with this competition, the management at the Central and the América have opted to "expand sales at the two breakfast bars" and promote the use of their facilities for "night-time activities, events, weddings and celebrations," among other more conventional offerings.
In June 2017, a Costa Rican wrote on TripAdvisor's website that the América guaranteed "a good stay," but complained about the "abysmal image" projected by the receptionists, asleep in the lobby. "I also find it absurd," he added, "that they charge for the safe."
The Central, in turn, has been criticized because it reopened less than a year ago, but with the entrance closed to pedestrians. The investors had violated the applicable dispositions, and the decision was described by the local press as a "regrettable mistake in the interest of tourism."
With the front blocked to passers-by and the forced removal of a bus stop, the Central seems isolated from the city in an operation that may frustrate the aspirations of those visitors who wish to participate in local daily life.
The competition's success vs. these Santa Clara establishments will probably not affect the two hotels built by the Cubanacán Group in Sagua La Grande, the country's newest tourism destination.
El Gran Hotel Sagua and the Palacio Arenas, both four-star facilities, will be promoted at Cuba's next International Tourism Fair, with the "advantage" of lacking private competition, as the Ministry of Labor and Social Security stopped issuing licenses for accommodations in August.