The Challenges and Gifts for Sustainable Tourism in Cuba
The Challenges and Gifts for Sustainable Tourism in Cuba
05/14/2016 10:33 pm ET | Updated 13 hours ago
Dr. Dave Randle
President and CEO, WHALE Center
Richard Berman, Director of the USF Patel College of Global
Sustainability (PCGS), and I traveled to Havana, Cuba, to explore the
possibilities of an exchange program.
We were immediately impressed with Havana’s charm of old cars, the
architecture and history of Old Havana, and the numerous excursions to
We also soon discovered many of the challenges Cuba as a whole, and
Havana specifically, face as tourism begins to invade it shores. The
invasion will come through new cruise line stops, new commercial flights
from the US, and the general increased interest of Americans as
relationships between the two nations begin to improve.
Some of the key challenges include: preserving ecosystems, coastal
habitats, and marine environments, clean marinas and sustainable ports,
need for rapid development of new infrastructure, need for sustainable
food supplies to meet increased demand, development of sustainable
tourism and coastal sustainability master plans and management
strategies. Perhaps one of the most important challenges is finding ways
to involve the people of Cuba in the solutions to these challenges in
such a way that they will also share in the benefits.
Our first meeting was with Fernando Bretos, Executive Director of
Cubamar, a program of the Ocean Foundation. Cubamar has been promoting
exchanges related to marine science for a couple of decades in areas
such as coral reefs, coastal habitat, and sea turtles. From this meeting
we are pleased to report that the Patel College of Global Sustainability
and Cubamar plan to sponsor a turtle from Cuba in this years Tour de
Turtle race. Our turtle will be racing for the cause of Sustainable Tourism.
Fernando stated: “CubaMar, a Project of The Ocean Foundation, looks
forward to this new collaboration with USF and our Cuban partners with
home we have been collaborating since 1998. Cuba is facing major
changes, particularly in terms of impacts from tourism. Cruise traffic,
coastal development and overfishing present challenges that will require
strong collaboration and creativity. Cuba is our last chance in the
Caribbean to do things right and avoid the fate of many other
destinations such as Cancun. USF brings a formidable team with
experience working around the world on sustainable tourism development.“
We also met with Commodore Diaz Escrich of the Hemingway Yacht Club. We
discussed the challenges of the infrastructure not in place to handle
the large number of tourists who will soon be arriving in ports and
marinas from both cruise ships and private yachts. We discussed possible
solutions such as the Florida and NOAA Clean Marina initiatives, port
sustainability strategies developed by the USF College of Marine Science
(CMS), and pump out stations that would go to biodigester that could
convert both sewage and food waste to biogas energy.
A biodigester can easily converts 5000 tons of waste into 3000 CF/Ton or
of biogas which can used or 100 KW of of electrical energy. Converting
the food and sewage waste in the harbor could provide for all the harbor
energy needs with additional energy available for the city of Havana.
We then met with Dr. Patricia Gonzalez where we discussed possible
collaboration for enhancing and protecting coastal habitat and marine
environments through the Blue Community strategies, ocean policy models
developed by the USF CMS, and joint education programs that share and
teach best practices.
Finally, we met with a University of Havana tourism faculty expert who
expressed an interest in the expertise PCGS offers in both coastal
sustainability and sustainable tourism that he stated were both so
closely integrated. Discussions included the need to better manage
coastal habitat, including fishery management and the development of new
fishery initiatives, such as our partners at the Anna Maria Fish Co. &
Healthy Earth have begun in Florida. Dr. Salinas stated that two key
challenges from his perspective are to develop funding mechanisms to
rapidly improve and build needed infrastructure, and to develop business
models that will provide the people of Cuba both a living wage and the
opportunity to occasionally enjoy the Cuba tourism resources that they
provide for others.
Building new infrastructure, if done sustainably, will go a long way
toward providing the economy development that will allow Cubans to
participate in this new resource development.
Cuba does have many challenges and it also has many gifts that other
tourism destinations around the world might do well to examine. Some of
the key gifts that we observed include deliberate policy promoting
sustainable tourism, cleanliness, pedestrian friendly, local food
emphasis, people who are interested in and working to protect and
conserve natural resources, and friendly people to welcome guests.
In 1997, following tourism development that seemed to pay little
attention to environmental or cultural impacts, the Cuban government
specifically defined sustainable tourism in a new law (Ley 81). In a
recent update on the “Current State of Sustainable Tourism in Cuba“,
Swen Waterers reports, “According to this law (also known as Ley del
Medio Ambiente de la República de Cuba), the focus is on mitigating
negative impacts through strict regulations regarding power usage and
import of produce, and focusing on ecotourism as a way to leverage from
its rich natural heritage consisting of six UNESCO Biosphere Reserves,
six Ramsar sites and nine World Heritage Sites.”
We were impressed that a city of over 2 million people seemed to have
relatively clean streets. We also noticed that there were no fast food
restaurants to be seen. While Cuba may have better street cleaning
services than other places in the world, we couldn’t help put wonder how
much the lack of fast food restaurants was contributing to less
pollution, as well.
The orientation toward pedestrians was impressive. For example, The
Malecon is a five mile (8 KM) sea walk that stretches form the Havana
Harbor to Old Havana.
The Malecón continues to be popular among Cubans, especially among those
of lesser means whose other means of entertainment are limited. It is
also a place where new private businesses are springing up and a place
where poorer families can create small street businesses and individual
fishermen can cast their lures.
Old Havana is a UNESCO world heritage site and the 2 square mile areas
is accessed primarily by walking.
The lack of fast food also means that people are more likely to
experience local food. Cuban agriculture accounts for less than 10% of
the GDP, but employs 20% of the nations workforce and utilizes about 30%
of the countries land. Urban farming is also promoted. In Havana for
example 90% of the city’s produce comes from local urban farms and gardens.
These are all strengths that if kept intact and protected will draw
tourists to the unique Caribbean experience unlike many other tourist
destinations. There is much for other destinations to learn from the way
Havana has developed.
We now hope to move forward with new sharing, collaboration, and
co-creation for sustainable tourism. We hope you may wish to join us in
As Richard Berman, director of the USF Patel College of Global
Sustainability said, “We share a great opportunity using sustainability
as a common goal to share our experience, research, and interest with
their culture research and history at a crucial time in their country’s
civil society. We look forward to a long term, active partnership of
exchange, research, and collaborative projects!”
We look forward to our next visit to Cuba where I hope to share some
best practices from our own local areas as well as around the world. We
also look forward to learning more from Cuba on their sustainability
best practices and their culture that is contributing to a better
quality of life for both visitor and resident alike.
Dr. David W. Randle – Director USF Patel College of Global
Sustainability Sustainable Tourism, Managing Director International
Ocean Institute Waves of Change Blue Community Initiative, and President
& CEO WHALE Center.
Source: The Challenges and Gifts for Sustainable Tourism in Cuba –