In our last post, Tania was telling us about her work as a tour guide in Cuba in the 1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba had to adjust to the loss of significant economic aid. The development of leisure tourism was one plan to make up for the loss and the country invested in tourist infrastructure and services and allowed foreign hotels to come in.
Tania: After ten years getting to know the tour operators, the ministers etc., Melia decided to create this office in Havana. They were in the beach resort, in Varadero before, but when they moved to Havana because they had so many hotels that they needed to be in the city and they needed a corporate office to do the sales and marketing, rather than the contractors. They needed a team, a bigger team and they decided to hire guides. Why tour guides? Because it’s easy for a tour guide to sell a country because you know your country and its history and everything and you know the industry and the tour operators. You sell first the destination, then the product. So, they called different guides and 2 out of 50 were approved.
Kyna: And you were one.
Tania: I was qualified for the British and English-speaking market and my colleague, Frank, he speaks German and English, so we could share different markets. So, out of 50, 2 were approved. I was lucky. They were so in need of marketing, I started to work in September and in October I was already in Glasgow and all over the UK traveling.
Kyna: Was this the first time you had been out of Cuba?
Tania: No, the first time was in the Bahamas, but it was like being in Cuba, it’s very close. That was 1993, when I was a tour guide.
Kyna: You started traveling to Europe in 2000…
Kyna: How was that?
Tania: It was an adventure. Traveling is an adventure every time you go out. But for me it was okay because I developed the skill of traveling when I was a tour guide. Even in traveling your own country, you know, you get a plane, you check into a hotel, you have to find your way, you have to ask and be social, so you get all those skills once you’re a tour guide.
Kyna: Plus you had been working with people from these countries.
Tania: Exactly, it was the best experience. I have no issue, anywhere I go. Even if I don’t speak the language, I always find my way. You cannot imagine how many times I got lost in London, sometimes with the telephone battery dead and people helping me, giving me their phones to call. Everywhere I go, I always get lost and I ask people. People help you. It’s fun. As long as you respect people and they respect you back. In 2003, when I started to travel I realized I always had the dream of being a tourist instead of a tour guide, and now I am a tourist.
Kyna: How does the Cuban government chose people who will be traveling outside of the country. They want to pick people who are a low risk for defection. You had small children at home…
Tania: You go through a background check but there is always a risk. I have friends and colleagues who decided to defect. Most of them did not have kids. I had several opportunities but I didn’t. Not because of my kids because in the end you can file a claim and get them out. I didn’t do it because the company put trust in me. Morally I couldn’t do it. Some people understand that, some do not. I had a good life. Not all the Cubans that live here or abroad defected. Some, like me, they married or came to live with their family. Sometimes, when I speak with Cubans who defected, they are very negative about Cuba and assume I agree. I understand maybe they had bad experiences but my experience was not bad. It’s not black and white. You have to be pragmatic. I know there are bad things about Cuba but there are good things too. I have met a lot of Cubans abroad, some are doing well, some not so well, but most of them would like to be back in Cuba. I’m sure when it changes, many will be back.
This concludes my first interview with Tania. We plan to sit down again over coffee and treats, probably after the holidays, so stay tuned. I have a list of things I want to talk about, including religion and the black-market in Cuba. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to ask Tania, please let me know.