Because my topic is the tourism economy, I see several places that will help my research when looking at the itinerary.
All of the typical tourist places will help me see how Cuba handles tourism in the traditional sense. Habana vieja, Old Havana, is one of the most visual places tourists can go, with old buildings flaunting beautiful architecture. Catedral de San Cristóbal and it’s plaza are two major tourist attractions in Habana vieja. El Morro Castle was built in the 16th century to protect the Havana Harbor. Finca la Vigía was the home of American writer, Ernest Hemingway, and is now a museum in his honor.
At these places, I hope to not only look in to the tourist-workers dynamic, but also how the places themselves are used/abused/admired. When looking at the people visiting, are there many Cubans who can experience the internationally revered places of their own country like foreigners can? I also want to better understand the places themselves and look into their original purposes compared to their purposes now. Is it strictly tourism now?
Besides the typical tourists spots, I want to look at the tourist spots that are more apart of Cuban’s everyday lives, the ones that are not always considered solely tourist attractions. Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several tobacco farmers in its region. It is a place for tourists to see breathtaking sites, and a place for everyday Cubans to try and earn their living. El Malecón is a walkway/road alongside the sea in which Cubans use in their everyday lives, but is also a desired place for tourists to see. Paladars are home restaurants that Cubans run themselves. While many Cubans cannot afford to eat at these restaurants themselves, it is a chance for tourists to be served by Cubans outside of a hotel, in a more personal interaction. Regla is a city that is known for its inhabitants who practice Santería, a religion that mixes catholic practices with African religious beliefs. Many tourists will travel their to see the practices of Santería. Do people go there just to take pictures of the people dressed in white or tell stories of their “bizarre” (and by bizarre I mean unfamiliar) or do people actually try to understand this religion? And how do the santeros feel about being a stop on a tourist’s excursion?
At these places I predict our group will get more of an authentic encounter or experience with the people of Cuba. How will these Cuvan act differently than the guides and workers of the more popular tourist attractions? Or will they live up to their reputation of hospitable people, slightly groomed to cater to every want of a tourist? Obviously tourism is a major keystone in the Cuban economy, but is there another reason why Cubans like tourists so much and why do they try so hard to show their country at its best? And do they really like us tourists as much as they act as they do? I wonder if the Cubans recognize “tourists vs. travellers” and when people try to learn more about another country’s culture by going to more places than just the typical tourist hot spots. Does the government, which greatly relies on the tourist economy, make it easier for tourists to see beyond the typical tourist attractions? Or is it the people who want tourists to take away more than photos of Catedral de San Cristóbal and stories of the sunsets at the Malecón?
Because I am a tourist on a tour, I will constantly see how the tourist economy plays into the every day lives of Cuba, the impact on their government and how the economy helps provide a living for Cubans. Seeing how these dynamics play out while on a tour will be eye opening and hopefully allow me to better understand my role in their economy.