Voyagers Voice interviewed the Cuban travel blogger José Enrique González. He is 25 years old and he is from Havana. He studies tourism at the University of Havana and he works as a travel guide for Free City Tours.
When did you start writing about Cuba?
Well, the pandemic has caused problems to all of us who work in the tourism sector, and I was no exception. In March 2020 I did the last tour, and until now I haven’t done any tours. So staying at home made me think that I could write about the things that I was telling to the travellers during the tours. And even though there are many Cuba-themed travel blogs, most of them are outdated, and Cuba is a country that changes constantly. So I started creating current content in order travellers to find up-to-date information about Cuba.
Having deep knowledge of Cuba and writing in different blogs, what is the reason you don’t have your own blog or maybe what is the reason preventing you from having one ?
Well, it is very difficult for me in Cuba to create a blog, due to the North American policy and the blockade that they have imposed on us for the last 60 years. First of all, I don’t have credit cards, Visa or Mastercard, because I am Cuban. Also, I don’t have access to PayPal, and this limits me from creating a website, because I cannot pay for a domain and hosting. It is unbelievable that something so easy in any other country is impossible in my country. North America has blocked many pages, services, servers, etc…
Why do you think it is necessary to write about Cuba?
I think that writing about Cuba is necessary, because there is a lot of ill-intentioned or bad information by many hegemonic media that control the way Cuba presents itself to the rest of the world. For a Cuban, it is important to write with sincerity about the real Cuba in order to help travellers having a clear picture of the country. Therefore, I think it will help to lift the smokescreen that has been created around Cuba and eliminate the stereotypes that do so much damage.
Why would you recommend travellers to visit Cuba?
Cuba is an authentic and wonderful country. It is formed by a unique society, which, despite the problems we have, laughs, be happy and prosper. The moment you arrive in Cuba, you learn and discover many new things.
What advice would you give to those who arrive in Cuba?
First, pay attention, because, although Cuba is possibly the safest country in Latin America, those who work in tourism believe that everyone who comes to Cuba is rich. Enjoy, walk, go to the Cuban neighbourhoods and talk with the locals, learn their stories and understand the way they live.
After the pandemic, what do you think tourism will be like?
I believe that tourism will recover gradually, as more travellers get vaccinated, and governments allow safe travelling. I also think that many people look forward to travelling, and they will search online for new proposals. However, I am afraid that this expected tourism boom will be detrimental to cities and nature, because after the calm caused by the pandemic, heavy tourism could become dangerous. But overall I am confident that tourism will recover again in 2021.
Do you think you could adapt to the digital travel technology and offer virtual tours as well?
It is very difficult for me to offer an online tour. First, I don’t have an easy and legal way to get paid, because I am forbidden by the North Americans to receive payments online. And second, because internet is still expensive in Cuba and it would not compensate me. For example, I tried to make an online experience on Airbnb, but they use the Zoom platform, which is blocked for Cuba.
Have you attended a virtual tour of Cuba or any other country during the pandemic?
No, I have attended none virtual tours; I still don’t know what they are like. But, I have taken advantage of and took part in face-to-face tours by other local guides here in my city. The other guides have nourished me and I know now more about my city. I recommend to those who cannot yet travel to look for local guides and book tours, in order to learn more about their city. In this way, they will also help the local guides, who most of them haven’t worked for more than a year.
Has the government of Cuba or the Cuban Tourism Organization used this pandemic year to create a new museum or restore a monument?
Yes, many tourist places have been renovated. They have taken advantage of this period to remodel and renovate spaces. They have also built new hotels and adapted others to the new tourism conditions. I think there are no new museums. Havana is not exactly the city of museums, but some have been improved.
To close our interview, some advice to all travellers who read you ...
Well, they should discover each place they visit, create their own experience, take the best of each city and not focus on the bad things. Travelling is not just going to a beach or seeing a museum, it is also walking in the streets, sitting down with a local and sharing an idea. Also, always be careful with waste, excesses, and abuse of nature. Remember that you visit a city today, but in the future, your children and grandchildren will visit it too, and you want them to see and enjoy it in the same way. I believe that responsible tourism is essential.