Cuban Feels: ancestry, tourism and the revolution

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

In 2003, Chandana Jayawardena monitored the tourism trends in Cuba and predicted that this country would be among the first places of tourism destinations of the Caribbean by 2010. A position that had until 1959, the Cuban revolution. 

Back in the pre revolution times, between 1940´s and 50´s, Cuba received a steady tourism growth, including visits from top American performs, such as Frank Sinatra. Cuba offered the finest accommodation…. gambling, sex and entertainment were the main attractions in Cuba, apart from the traditional sun, sea and sand tourism. Jayawardena says that Cuban women catered for every tourist and were considered the main selling point for the tourism industry. Then, in 1958 tourism arrivals began to fall, as the guerrilla warfare increased. 

Just a month after the revolution won, Fidel Castro created the department of beaches for the people to promote domestic tourism. Golf courts were replaced by schools and the leading hotels were nationalized. Even though Castro was creating programs to invite international tourism, one in particular anti-racist for Afro-Americans, the US trade and travel embargo affected the tourism industry in Cuba. 

As arrivals dropped immensely, so did the monitoring of public statistics, for which we have no access to data. After the breakup with the Soviet Union, Cuba started again to invest in their tourism endeavours and growth started with it. 

Of course, with new investment from the government and the Soviet Union breakup, along came the eyes of the world upon Cuba. Havana was declared World Heritage and Trinidad a national monument. UNESCO founded the restoration of Old Havana to attract the European market. In the 1980´s tourism receipts grew double, and tourism arrivals increased to 300,000 tourists annually- compared to the 3,000 annually recorded at the early years of the revolution.

The government started to develop niche tourism such as health, diving, birdwatching and freshwater fishing. And soon in the 90´s Cuba doubled its tourism arrivals. Which helped specially for the “Special period” in which Cuba was transitioning towards a Soviet Union independent and self-sufficient country. Joint ventures were installed to attract foreign investment.

Jayawardena (2003). explains: “Some analysts ease their minds by falsely stating that a post-US embargo tourism-boom in Cuba will last only a couple of years, and the novelty will fade away quickly. (...) by 2010 Cuba will be elevated to the number one position in Caribbean tourism, with or without a change in the policy of the USA towards Cuba.”

Almost a decade has passed, and Cuban tourism has still a steady growth independent from the political entanglement with the US, visitor arrivals are more than half a million visitors per year, almost 200,000 more people than previous decades. It seems that the Cubans have found a way to attract tourism by selling the experience of the “Stopped-in-time-Cuba". Nowadays you experience the Old Cuba in a country that went through a Socialist revolution, and that until today it still has a socialist system.

So, one of my interest was to understand how tourism, -an industry that pinpoints the commodification of culture, and one of the capitalist experiences of excellence- exist and has developed in Cuba?

 Tourists at La Bodeguita, 2019.

There is so many views to Cuban tourism industry. On this Episode of The Wander and Wonder Podcast, Marisa and I dwell on the many feelings that we encounter while visiting this country.

How did it feel to visit Cuba as other Latin-Americans, even more, how did it feel to visit Cuba with some kind of family link? Listen to this new episode! Subscribe in Apple Podcast, and now we are on Spotify, tune in!


Jayawardena, C. (2003). Revolution to revolution: Why is tourism booming in cuba? International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 15(1), 52-58. 

About our Guest

Marisa Bolivar

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