Tour guides organize and lobby for legal status in Cuba

Photo: Sadiel Mederos

By Ely Justiniani Perez (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – On September 22, 2021, officials from the Ministry of Tourism agreed to meet with three representatives of a large group of tourist guides, who mobilized to obtain legal status for their professional activity in Cuba.

Although there were only three representatives elected because of the “epidemiological situation”, the majority of the members of the collective agree that “the meeting will be a step forward since the representatives will know how to put the interests of the group on the table, having well – an articulate and inclusive speech, which covers the many different interests of its members.

The group of tour guides for legal status as an independent activity has more than 800 members, including guides in public companies, travel managers and independent guides from different backgrounds. Their fundamental objective is to “advocate for the legalization of tour guides as an independent activity and for a legal status allowing them to work empirically”.

Some reasons to legalize the activity

Since the activity was registered on the list of prohibited professions within the private sector, tourist guides have continued to mobilize to reverse this measure. In this regard, the group of tourist guides for legal status as an independent activity has undertaken key actions such as the presentation of arguments on the benefits of this independent activity for the economic development of the country.

The promotion of tourism in Cuba was highlighted as one of the points where private guides could have a strong impact. “The country needs more than tourism to progress, and if every independent guide became a publicist and showed all the great things the island has to offer, it would lead to a substantial increase in the number of visitors,” he said. he. on Felix Ruano, a tour guide with many years of experience.

“Guides all over the island are fighting for this work to gain legal status, and they are digging into the work to create innovative and attractive products to ensure the development of tourism in many parts of the country. The government has spoken on several occasions of eliminating unnecessary illegal activities and this is a clear example of this, ”Ruano emphasizes.

Discussions in recent months have looked at the value of independent tourism activity as a source of employment and income for the country, in terms of taxes.

Arturo Mesa, professor and translator with more than 20 years of experience in the field, underlines that “this form of employment could offer a wide variety of tourist offers, developing activities adapted to the interests of travelers and designing packages for small groups. , for people who do not like to travel in large groups like those that national agencies normally operate.

“We want the productive forces to feel more engaged and motivated, and that we all have the chance to participate in national progress,” Mesa emphasizes.

Negotiations in context

On February 10, 2021, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security published a list of 124 prohibited economic activities in Cuba’s private sector, including tour operator services, as well as travel agencies.

Until this time, “independent” tour guides operated without a license or used a license that allowed them to somehow justify their relationship with small groups of tourists. This professional activity was in a legal vacuum, as there was no law to support it, but there were also no laws to prohibit it. Now there is.

As a result of these regulations, a heated debate broke out on social networks between people linked to the sector, who sent dozens of letters to the corresponding authorities. They also shared an online petition to obtain legal status for private travel agencies – more than 1,500 people have signed the document.

In response to these complaints, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security wrote a written response to one of its signatories, in May 2021. development and production links between the public sector and private forms of management, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, alongside the Ministry of Tourism, would analyze and assess the relevance or otherwise of the exercise of these activities and others relating to the tourism sector. “

A few weeks later, on June 7, 2021, the Official Gazette of the Cuban Republic published Resolution 132/21 of the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), which is a new set of regulations for “national travel agencies”.

The document defines national travel agencies as “legal persons in Cuba, whose social mission is to carry out activities consisting in mediating between travelers and tour operators”; and also explains that the authorization of these is in the hands of MINTUR.

Although the regulation does not explicitly specify who can create these agencies, it recognizes that Cuban natural persons (the self-employed are natural persons) can be “suppliers of tourist services” who offer “the sale of these in groups, programs, circuits. , excursions or other tourist services ”via State travel agencies. How will this relationship be? It doesn’t say; but there is no doubt that the lack of clarity of these regulations is also a beacon of hope for the most optimistic.

Then, on August 19, much to the disappointment of many, the activity of travel agencies and tour operators reappeared on the prohibited list under decrees and resolutions that regulate private sector companies (which include micro -businesses, non-agricultural cooperatives and self-employed workers). So the struggle for legal status continues …

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