September 29, 2020

The Editor Speaks: A warning from one of our readers

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Colin WilsonwebCUBA! – Look at Israel.

Good morning Colin

I’ve just read an amazing comment on Cayman 27, “Cuba is not ready for tourism.” I don’t know who Raglan Roper is but that is about the most ill-informed and dangerous attitude anyone could take. This is a lesson from history about how that attitude can backfire on you:

Eilat in Southern Israel. When I first went there in 1991 during the Gulf War it had half-a-dozen major hotels. It’s a great resort, great diving, a great place to learn to dive, good nightlife, almost guaranteed sunshine all year (they used to offer a $100 a day refund if it rained or was cloudy) and all just five hours from London.

After Desert Storm ended Eilat started to expand. It began when the owner of Lufthansa built a huge five-star hotel and after that money poured in. When I went to work there in February 1994 the place was always packed. We were handling group bookings of up 50 divers coming out from the UK and Europe. The dive centre across the road was completing up to 50 open water courses a week, people were flying out to do them. It was busy. I last worked out there in August 1996 and in the previous year they had built 13 new hotels, many of them financed by big chains. I was at the new Holiday Inn and we were going flat out – I used to spend 4-5 hours in the water every day doing intro dives.

At that time Eilat had a virtual monopoly because there was really nothing in the Sinai between the Taba Hilton (where I’d also worked) on the Israel/Egypt border south of the town and Sharm El Sheikh over 140 miles away. was all dirt roads and scruffy hostels and even Sharm only had about six major hotels. were flying to Ovda, the airport for Eilat, four times a week from Heathrow using first 757s, then 767s and eventually 747s. This was backed up by at least six scheduled charter flights a week – easily 2000-2500 tourists a week just from the UK. When you arrived at Ovda there’d be 40-50 coaches waiting from incoming flights from all over Europe.

Over the years there had been a couple of attempts by Egyptians to build big hotels in the Sinai but they never got much further than marking out the site. It had been like that for a long while and the Israelis simply didn’t anticipate what might be creeping up on them.

Around 2000 the Mubarek government effectively opened up whole of the Sinai’s Red Sea coast to foreign developers. The result, as they say, is history. I honestly don’t know how many hotels there now are between Taba and Sharm El Sheik but it’s a lot. On one location alone they cleared an area large enough to build an Intercontinental, a Sofitel, a Movenpick, a Hyatt Regency, the Miramar Resort, a Club Med and a golf course – it’s just one huge site with a bus service connecting the hotels and the dive centre but it isn’t in any way crowded or excessively touristy because it’s still in the middle of a largely unspoilt coastline.

Da Hab has become a proper town serving about a dozen hotels while Sharm grew to 10 times the size I remembered in 1992. The worst bit about it for the Israelis is that these are not cheap tourist dumps like you get in Spain and Turkey but proper 3/4/5 star hotels. In fact many of them make the R-C look cheap. When you combine that with all-inclusive hotel packages with flights and transfers that run out around £500-£600 for a week (I went to Da Hab in 2011 for £485) Eilat was doomed.

Eilat now has over 100 hotels listed but most of them are empty. El Al suspended the Ovda flights years ago and you now have to fly to Tel Aviv on an overnight service from Heathrow then get a 7am connecting flight to Eilat – needless to say they aren’t getting many takers. A good Israeli friend on mine who works for what was one of the main Eilat tour operators says they closed their office in the town six years ago because all their work is now in Egypt.

The sting in this tale is that having lost the tourist trade the Israelis can’t get it back. Despite all the troubles in Egypt, the closure of Taba airport and everything else going on in the Sinai the tourists are not returning. It seems to be a case of once you lose this kind of business it’s gone for ever.

Having seen the Cayman Islands in the early 1990s when hotels were full, the dive boats were going out packed and we were queuing to get on moorings I’m already pretty sceptical about the prospects of any miraculous recovery but reading some of the nonsense being written about Cuba it looks like the islands almost have a death wish.

The fact is that Cuba already has a thriving tourist industry, including four cruise destinations, and with a population of over 11 million no shortage of workers when they start expanding. Val and I went to Varadero in September 2008. Even she couldn’t fault either our hotel or the location and I think that was a first for her.

Brace yourself because if the sanctions are completely lifted things could get very rough.

END

I have to agree with the writer. Never-the-less we do have one thing in our favour with the American public over Cuba – we speak English.

Having said that Cuba does have some very pretty islands and one in particular is very attractive to tourists and many hotels being built. I have been there.

: This beautiful island located to the south of the Cuba, in the Caribbean Sea, is only 175 KMS from Havana and 170 from Varadero. Cayo Largo is in the Canarreos Archipelago , it is 1 km in its wider part , has an area of 37.5 sq Km and is 27Km long , which is also the complete length of its beaches. Apart from having a marvelous history, where the settlement of the first Cuban Indian Siboneyes tribes, descendant from the Arauca Indians, Cayo Largo was visited by Christopher Colombus in 1494 and by famous pirates like John Hawkins, Jean Lafitte Latrobe, Pepe El Mallorquin and Henry Morgan between 1565 and 1820. Also a shipwreck happened in Cayo Largo shores in 1600 with a precious treasure belonging to the famous corsair Bartolome the Portuguese. The average temperature is 26ºC, with 8 hours of tropical sunshine, with these conditions you’ll have to admit that Cayo Largo is easily the paradise of holidaymakers. Different kinds of fauna representatives can be found in Cayo Largo, such as the Iguanas, Colibries, Tortoises, Sea Gulls, Coruas, Shellfishes and Pelicans. Cayo Largo is the ideal land to recover what has been forgotten because of daily routine, to fall in love, or simply to recover lost inspiration; to live passionately like it is always done in Caribbean lands. Cayo Largo is an All Inclusive island, meaning that you can eat, drink and make use of all services and facilities in the different properties.

Cuba tends to concentrate on the all-inclusive deal and although that is gaining popularity, it isn’t top most in our tourism model.

Cuba has 60,500 hotel rooms at present and expects to have 85,000 by 2020.

This figure was before the Obama/Castro announcement! I expect the 2020 85,000 rooms to be a lot higher now.

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