Cuba will attract more tourists with U.S. deal, needs to modernize

Tue Jan 6, 2015 6:04pm EST
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By Daniel Wallis

HAVANA (Reuters) - Salsa music and cigar smoke swirl round the grand courtyard of Havana's famous Hotel Nacional, and guests enjoy stunning views out over the "Malecon" seafront promenade and the ocean beyond.

But inside, many of its rooms are shabby and musty, the WiFi is costly and weak, customer service is often indifferent, and the food, while plentiful, is generally dull.

Although Havana is loaded with charm, great music and architectural jewels, there is a shortage of quality hotel rooms and restaurants, hire cars, taxis and other services.

Tour operators hope a fledgling detente between Cuba and the United States, announced last month, will lure hundreds of thousands of U.S. tourists to enjoy the island's once forbidden fruits: its white beaches, colonial cities, fine cigars and rum, and the vintage American cars on its streets.

They also know that Cuba has to improve its offering.

"There are four or five really nice hotels in Havana which you can count on for a really quality experience, and I think that needs to increase five-, six-fold," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel.

He has brought around 5,000 people to Cuba over the last four years, organizing trips that range from short family visits for Cuban-Americans to holidays designed for art collectors or cigar aficionados.

"You have capacity issues at the airport with everything from luggage getting off flights to the customs process, and so those are all challenges," he said.   Continued...

People ride in a Polski Fiat vehicle in downtown Havana January 4, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini