Cuba: Trinidad’s B&B boom

Source:  Granma
November 24, 2015

by Juan Antonio Borrego |

Trinidad is a town in the province of Sancti Spíritus, central Cuba.

The rapid increase in private bed and breakfast inns and family run restaurants and cafes is transforming Trinidad’s tourist panorama, a regional paradigm for the preservation of its heritage and one of Cuba’s most famous destinations.

trinidad b&b boom.jpg

During tourist high season, Trinidad can receive up to 10,000 tourists in a single day.  Photo: Vicente Brito

If, in one of the countless surveys conducted, you are asked which city in Cuba has been able to double its tourist lodging capacity in a single year without constructing any new hotels, don’t think it’s some kind of mathematical trick, or unsolvable riddle, because the answer is Trinidad.

At least according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism’s (Mintur) provincial delegation, which recently reported an exponential rise in rooms in this part of the country, despite the fact that not a single hotel has been completed in the last five years.

The miracle

According to various experts speaking to Granma International, “the miracle” has been possible due to the unlikely boom in private bed and breakfasts – some 952 according to the latest survey – turning Trinidad in to a national reference for the development of non-state tourist options, which have been taking off in this territory ever since the activity was politically supported in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and Revolution, ratified in the Sixth PCC Congress, in April 2011.

Declared a UNESCOs World Heritage sites  since 1988 and currently one of the country’s most charming destinations, Trinidad is – along with Viñales, in Pinar del Río – one of the regions with the largest concentration of B&Bs, family restaurants and cafeterias in Cuba (some 1,115 in total).  It occupies a relatively small area and has a small number of inhabitants per square kilometer.

19th century buildings

The B&B boom, as some are calling it, is evident in the areas surrounding the Plaza Mayor, where the 19th century buildings have been converted into lodging and dining establishments; a phenomenon also visible in the nearby town of La Boca; the sea port of Casilda, on the high peaks of Topes de Collantes standing at an altitude of over 800 meters; and which is also beginning to flourish toward the east, in the always popular Valle de los Ingenios.

Over 10,000 tourists in a single day

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Trinidad is one of the regions with the largest concentration of b&bs, family restaurants and cafeterias in Cuba Photo: Sotolongo, Carlos Luis

Despite being 22 weeks pregnant, everyday Liset Esquerra dreams of discovering new clients in her restaurant Sabor a mí, a modest house located near to the old convent of Saint Francis of Assisi, today the National Museum of the Fight against Bandits, from where you can practically inhale the aroma of coffee coming from the Don Pepe café or feel the buzz from the La Botija restaurant.

“Location isn’t enough to succeed,” states the Social Communication graduate, “nor is it about getting rich in one month, you have to compete hard, study the different languages, make sure you have all the necessary supplies and work morning, noon and night.”

Reiner Rendón, Mintur representative in the province, notes that today, Trinidad wouldn’t be able to receive all the tourists who arrive to the region – up to 10,000 in a single day during high season – if it weren’t for the 1,355 private rooms and service infrastructure which have been emerging over recent years.

An essential component

According to the director, more than a complement to state activity, private sector services have become an essential component for the development of the industry in the region, and important part of Trinidad’s tourist product, given the unique, quality offers they provide.

Even though the municipality has a network of hotels located across the Ancón Peninsula, the city of Trinidad, and the heights of the Topes de Collantes – which have seen noteworthy results thus far this year and are scheduled to undergo development works – today the non-state sector receives almost half of all tourist arrivals to the region, having grown 41.5% as compared to 2014, and contributes more than 50% of the municipality’s budget.

Sector directors agree that there is sufficient demand to be exploited by all service providers, while state and private offers complement each other and strengthen the region’s exceptional synergy, which offers beaches, history, culture, relaxation and adventure all within a radius of a few kilometers.

A question of co-existence

Despite the lack of a wholesale market offering basic supplies essential to service providers, and water storage problems, over 6,000 individuals are registered as self-employed in Trinidad, the majority linked to the tourist sector, which not only provides employment, but also higher salaries, and the opportunity for home improvement.

The transformation of Trinidad’s tourist panorama has also contributed to attracting more visitors to the city’s cultural centers, museums, galleries, crafts markets, as well as its nightlife centers, which include salsa on the stairs of the Casa de la Música, folklore performances at the Palenque de los Congos Reales and a club located within the Ayala Cave.

For Reiner Rendón, a good example of how the state sector has been obliged to respond given the impact of private offers, is the reaction of the Palmares Group, which, he reported, is carrying out improvement works to its various facilities, redirecting efforts toward leisure and entertainment, and redesigning its food offers.

Some 839 contracts between tour operators, Cubatur, Havanatur, Viajes Cubanacán, Ecotur and private B&Bs and restaurants, is another example that friendly coexistence between the two sectors is possible.

The goose that laid the golden egg

Architect Lázaro Morgado recently traveled to the Louvre Museum in Paris, to receive the Golden Gesture Award presented by the International Hall of Cultural Heritage’s Committee of Experts, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the restoration of his restaurant Sol Ananda.

”The greatest beneficiary is the city,” stated Morgado at the Mezzanine du Carrousel restaurant, where he received the accolade, who highlighted the importance of knowing how to modify the city’s cultural heritage in accordance with the new forms of economic management, just as he has done with the former residence belonging to Sergeant Major, Don Martín de Olivera, on the corners of Real and Desengaño streets.

Tackling the destruction of such valuable and vulnerable heritage has become a genuine obsession in Trinidad since judge Saturnino Sánchez Iznaga formally proposed before local authorities, more than a century ago, the demolition of the Béquer Palace – one of the most lavish of the many which were built throughout the island according to Domingo del Monte writer, lawyer, and literary critic of the time. More recently the Office of Conservation, Culture, Physical Planning and Housing, and the municipal government, have granted some exceptions to preservation regulations.

The appearance, as if by magic, of arbors, awnings, bars and even modern rooftop swimming pools on buildings located within the heritage site; the inappropriate use of spaces and infractions committed during the construction process, figure among the list of abuses which have increasingly required resolution recently.

Experts note that when dealing with modifications made to structures in the historic center which covers 50 blocks and includes over 2,000 buildings, the vast majority of houses representative of 18th and 19th century national architecture, the solution isn’t always as easy as it might seem, an opinion also shared by others such as local Trinidad resident Ana María Gutiérrez.

”People think they have the right to change their kitchen, lounge and house-front” she warns “but if we do whatever we like, then we ourselves would be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs,” she commented.

Source:  Trinidad’s B&B boom  Granma

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