Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

How Reservations Work at Cuban Hotels: A Guest Post by Kristen MacQueen. Back to Cuba Again Part#5

Post April 5 Kristen on Hotels.

Since it’s Cuba, I’ll use a baseball analogy to describe how working with the state hotels here is for travel agents.

The hotels are the pitchers. We are the batters.  The state owned ground handler through which we have to make the reservations is the umpire.  The pitcher and the umpire are on the same team. This means that the pitchers can throw any pitch they want and it will be called a strike.

The hotels want to maximize occupancy.  The best way to do this, if you are not worried about guests complaining, is to overbook. Hotels in Cuba accept up to 20% more than their actual capacity based on the probability that between the time of the reservation and arrival, some people will cancel.

What happens when all the confirmed guests show up?  See Michael’s March 31 post, “How Do You Deal With Getting Bumped Out of a Hotel in Cuba?”

(MK:  Who cares if the shower does not work in the hotel Armadores de Santander in old Havana if this is what you see when you look out your window.)

Photo courtesy of Cindy Loo. March 25, 2011

The high demand hotels where this is most likely to happen are in Old Havana, Viñales and Trinidad. For individual bookings, our clients are rarely subjected to the dreaded “bumpings”. But for groups, especially in the middle of high season, watch out.

So how do we deal with this situation?

•    We request that our ground handlers block our space in our preferred hotels for all group tours almost a year in advance.

•    We include a caveat on all of our itineraries that hotels may change without notice.

In reality we can never be sure where our groups are going to end up until 2 weeks before  their departure. In rare cases we are not advised that we have been bumped until the group arrives at the hotel.

In Cuba the hotel’s only contractual obligation is to relocate bumped groups to a hotel of the same or superior rating, hopefully within the same area or worse (if it’s a case of total hotel saturation), to another tourism pole altogether.

We have to be creative in these situations. (MK: “I’ll say!”)

Once we had a Danish group which was downgraded from a 3* hotel in Trinidad to a 2* hotel in a charming location about ½ hour outside of the city.  The services and location of the hotel were nothing close to what they were expecting. They were looking forward to walking around the colonial city, some dancing and music in the city of Trinidad in the evening.

Other than driving 5 hours to Havana or sleeping on a Trinidad park bench, there were no other alternatives. So the guide made the best of the situation and organized a group of local musicians on the beach and an impromptu pork roast.  Doing his best to make lemonade out of lemons, he conjured up an authentic Cuban party at the last minute.

Once for a small cycling group we opted to to use licensed private houses in order not to have to backtrack 2.5 hours to Havana and miss out on some of the most scenic bike rides of the trip. While the accommodations were more rustic than what they were expecting, many later commented that they appreciated the experience for the insight it gave them into Cuban life.

We of course try and provide compensation during the tour for anything that doesn’t go as planned. I think my brother’s strategy is to ply our guests with extra wine at dinner (lol)…

There are many challenges to working and traveling in Cuba. If you’re willing to roll with the punches, then traveling in Cuba can be a great adventure.

I think maybe part of what attracts a lot of our guests to Cuba is the fact that it’s not perfect. People are interested in seeing a place which has remained largely untouched by external forces for the last 50+ years. If you think you’re brave enough to take the good with the mediocre, then by all means jump in.

The warmth and shy smiles of rural Cubans, the dogged spirit of the Cuban people, the natural beauty of many of its land and seascapes, and much more may just make a total upheaval in your itinerary seem insignificant. I’m crossing my fingers that’s how our guests will feel anyway….

(MK: If our group was at all representative, Kristen can uncross her fingers.  Of the 12 participants 5 of us were repeaters.  Four people came because the trip was recommended by two of the repeat travelers who they had met on another bike trip.  I never found out why the other 3 participants choose this tour, but I would not be surprised if they of them return.
Still no correct answer to what the barber told me he used for practice in the absence of peaches or what Yolanda loves about the Newspapers in Cuba. The contest continues.

New contest: What did Yolanda do when after a long hot day of biking the shower did not work in Hotel Pictured above?

I’ll send a bag of gourmet Costa Rican Coffee to the first three persons who can guess what she did? If you were there or I could not resist telling you about it, you are not eligible.

In my next Cuba posts I’ll tell you more about what it is like to travel in Cuba.)

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                                              • A big difference between overbooking by the state-owned Cuban Hotels and the airlines is that the airlines are required to ask for volunteers before bumping people involuntarily and they are required to compensate everyone they bump. There is an interesting article in today’s on-line New York Times about people who reserve flights that are likely to be overbooked so that they can get bumped and collect the compensation.

                                                Clarification: The creative solutions come from WOWCuba, not CRE

                                                • At April 06, 2011
                                                  10:28:01 am
                                                  Paul Shields said:

                                                  She jumped in the water or stood in the rain!

                                                  • At April 06, 2011
                                                    9:33:52 am
                                                    Chris Parrott said:

                                                    Well, since we (as a UK tour operator dealing with Cuba) also find ourselves in the same batter-versus-pitcher/umpire situation, I agree wholeheartedly with Kirsten’s clarification of how the booking of Cuban hotels all works.

                                                    We find it even happens (although less frequently now) with individuals, who find themselves in the street with their luggage at midnight, and of course no resourceful tour leader, no Spanish, and no group members to share (later) in the humour of it all.

                                                    The baseball analogy reminds me of evenings I have spent, wine glass in hand, with Michael and Yolanda discussing how US sporting metaphors have found their way into UK English. They transpose fairly easily into cricket.

                                                    One term in baseball that hasn’t reached this side of the Great Divide is what they call their trousers. I gather that what we call plus-fours they call knickers.

                                                    Whereas knickers, in England, is used in an entirely different context…

                                                    • So far no one has gotten it, but one person came sorta close on what Yolanda did when the shower did not work

                                                      • At April 06, 2011
                                                        6:41:44 am
                                                        Shannon Borrego said:

                                                        The philosophy of the hoteliers in Cuba sounds similar to that of the airlines in the U.S.–overbook and hope that enough people cancel to avoid a surplus of warm bodies at the last minute. However, CRE’s creative solutions are much more interesting than a free airline ticket on a later flight.
                                                        Cheryl Schiarizzi beat me to the punch–I think Yolanda found a hose somewhere and rinsed off; possibly laughing and singing while doing so.

                                                        • At April 05, 2011
                                                          6:38:21 pm
                                                          Cheryl Schiarizzi said:

                                                          one more thought — the barber shaved a pig

                                                          • At April 05, 2011
                                                            6:37:18 pm
                                                            Cheryl Schiarizzi said:

                                                            Cuban Barbers practice on balloons
                                                            Yolanda likes the headlines
                                                            Yolanda showered with the hose in the pool area

                                                            • At April 05, 2011
                                                              5:33:07 pm
                                                              paul cosulich said:

                                                              the baber shaved hush puppy shoes…or cacti….or some kind of animal…fidel castro dolls….or places that bathing suits usually cover

                                                              Yolanda went swimming in the bay in the photo….or in another guests rooms, or in the fountain out front, or the managers house