REV: Gustavsen on Colantonio/Potter, Urban Tourism and Development
in the Socialist State: Havana ...
jancius at ohio.edu
Mon Oct 15 17:16:57 EDT 2007
H-Net Book Review
Published by H-Travel at h-net.msu.edu (August, 2007)
Andrea Colantonio and Robert B. Potter. Urban Tourism and Development in the
Socialist State: Havana during the "Special Period". Hampshire: Ashgate
Publishing, 2006. xii + 256 pp. Illustrations, maps, figures, tables,
bibliography, index. $99.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7546-4739-3.
Reviewed by John Gustavsen, Department of History, University of Miami.
Tourism and Transition
Since the tourism industry replaced sugar as the most significant
contributor to the island's national economy, Cubanists have paid increasing
attention to tourism and its effect on the Cuban state, economy, and
society. Urban Tourism and Development in the Socialist State: Havana during
the 'Special Period', written by Andrea Colantonio and Robert B. Potter,
adds to this growing body of work. Urban Tourism is more comprehensive than
most of the material currently being published. Much of the research being
done on Cuban tourism deals with narrowly defined--but nonetheless
significant--topics, such as foreign investment, prostitution, health
tourism, etc. Colantonio and Potter utilize a wide variety of sources as
they examine "the role, impacts, and planning implications of urban tourism
in Havana within the new national and local developmental strategy in Cuba"
(p. 12). In doing so, they illustrate a number of the political, social,
economic, and environment impacts of this highly significant industry. Their
work will be useful for individuals interested in contemporary Cuban
history, tourism and development, and postcommunist transition.
The book has two main arguments. "The first one maintains that
decentralization and the economic reforms of the 1990s are simply recasting
vertical models of governance into new forms" (p. 5). The second argument
contends that within the diverging forces of Cuba's inward-looking socialist
ideology and market economy tourism, the Cuban government is not
implementing its plans in a way that will preserve the achievements of the
revolution. Instead, state officials are basing their decisions on the dire
economic need that followed the fall of the Soviet Union and Cuba's highly
preferential trading sphere. Furthermore, the authors rightfully stress that
it is important to recognize "the 'path dependent' nature of post-socialist
change" (p. 7). Cuba is adjusting to this change differently than countries
such as Poland, Croatia, and Russia. The high level of centralization that
has been maintained in the post-Soviet era and the continued U.S. embargo
are two of the most significant factors influencing Cuba's particular path.
Along these lines, the authors highlight the work of Allan Williams and
Vladimir Balaz (2000) illustrating the different paths to tourism
development in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The introduction and subsequent four chapters comprise part 1. Each helps to
provide a strong theoretical and historiographical underpinning for the
ensuing study. Chapter 2 examines some of the ethical dilemmas that can
arise for Western researchers working in the underdeveloped world. One of
the authors' main concerns in this context is the transfer of knowledge, or
in this case, the lack thereof. They argue that the underdeveloped world
needs to incorporate more of the research results of Western scholarship
into their respective nations' planning strategies. The authors also outline
their methodology in this chapter, highlighting their varied source pool
that includes archival research, interviews, and questionnaires.
Chapter 3, "Tourism Development: The Cuban Context," examines the
contradictions between tourism development in the underdeveloped world,
which tends to be decentralized and foreign-dominated, and the system of
socialist governance in Cuba, one based on centralized planning and national
sovereignty. The authors examine what the government has done to remedy
these contradictions, arguing that its goal has become the "implementation
of an Import-Substitution policy centered on tourism, aiming to reduce the
country's leakages and economic dependency from external markets" (p. 25).
Finding balance has been difficult for several reasons, however. During the
Special Period Cuba's economic needs have been extreme; Cuba did not begin
to develop the necessary infrastructure to independently maintain the
tourism industry until the mid-1990s; and foreign partners have tended to
prefer retaining control of their investments. Thus, while during the
Special Period tourism has helped Cuba immensely, by creating over 200,000
jobs and generating 7 percent of the county's GDP by 1999, the authors also
remind readers that scholars should not cease to see tourism as what keeps
the developing world's dependence on the West intact.
Chapter 4's goals are twofold. The first is to provide an overview of
tourism re-development in Havana during the 1990s. The national government
identified sixty-seven tourist poles throughout the country. Five of these
are in Havana, and the government has centered urban tourism development on
them. Still, the steady growth in urban tourism that took place in Havana
between 1988 and 2002 has not been distributed evenly among the five poles.
The authors argue that East Havana has benefited the most from this growth.
The chapter's second goal is to provide readers with a theoretical framework
for the study of urban tourism. This is done for two reasons--to illustrate
that varying types of urban tourism development (i.e., cultural, heritage,
business, etc.) impact cities in different ways, and to link tourism
planning with urban planning in general. In their view, tourism and other
urban functions are interdependent.
The general links between tourism planning and urban planning are dealt with
in chapter 5, yet it does not highlight the particularities of this
intersection within the context of Havana. Instead, the authors outline the
variables utilized in their research. This chapter, much like those that
precede it, is largely theoretical. Like the others, it helps to provide
readers with the background they need to understand urban tourism in Havana
during the Special Period as well as the major arguments surrounding its
Chapters 6 through 9 comprise the book's second part. In "Tourism and Urban
Development in Havana: From the 'Pseudo-republic' to the Special Period,"
the authors "describe how tourism has historically been a powerful force in
shaping Havana's urban expansion, with the exception of the revolutionary
period from 1959 to 1990" (p. 87). They also begin their intense focus on
the idea that tourism has led to the uneven spatial development of Havana.
Throughout the rest of the book, they effectively highlight this notion in
the context of themes such as infrastructural development, economic
opportunity, and environmental impact.
Despite this uneven development the authors argue, in chapter 7, that the
effects of tourism on Havana have been generally positive. They do have
three criticisms though. Doctors, teachers, and other professionals are
abandoning their jobs for work in tourism. The state's failure to employ
large numbers of people has led to increased crime and prostitution.
Finally, the economic benefits have been limited to the city's tourism
poles. To justify their criticisms, the authors cite a number of examples
based on statistical information and several interviews with residents. They
also note that in light of this tourism-based social change, new actors and
interest groups have arisen in Havana, in some cases, in direct opposition
to Cuba's system of highly centralized planning. Thus, the authors
illustrate that tourism may provide the fertile ground necessary for
institutional change to take root in Cuba.
Chapter 8 deals with the environmental consequences of tourism on Havana
during the Special Period. The consequences have been tempered by two
conflicting trends. The Cuban government promotes "sustainable development,"
yet its hunger for foreign currency "has increased the pressure to
marginalize environmental protection" (p. 138). The authors outline the
institutions and legislation designed during the Special Period to regulate
the environmental impact of tourism on Havana. They focus on topics such as
the city's water, sewerage, and drainage systems, road networks, and
pollution levels, arguing that in terms of infrastructure, tourism has had
both positive and negative impacts on the city.
Chapter 9 is perhaps the book's most interesting. It examines how residents
perceive tourism's influence on Havana. The authors base their conclusions
on 160 questionnaires that they divided equally between the neighborhoods of
Old Havana, Vedado, Montebarreto, and East Havana. The questionnaires gave
the authors an opportunity to test the validity of their claims regarding
tourism in the capital. In almost every instance, residents' perceptions
reinforced the authors' aforementioned assertions. The authors argued that
one of tourism's main benefits is the economic opportunity it provides. In
fact, 70 percent of respondents to the questionnaire saw tourism's main
benefits as economic in nature. Unsurprisingly, the responses also
reinforced the authors' focus on Havana's growing spatial divide. Similarly,
when the authors were unable to assess whether infrastructural or
environmental improvements in the capital have been a result of tourism or
non-tourism-related initiatives, residents were equally unable to do so. The
authors also incorporated several personal interviews into the chapter. The
interviews reinforce the conclusions drawn from the questionnaires,
complementing them quite well and improving the chapter's readability.
Chapters 10 and 11 comprise part 3. This section examines tourism's impact
on policy-making in Havana and offers some concluding thoughts about Cuba's
future. Government efforts to decentralize tourism planning have frequently
met with mixed results. As the authors demonstrate, this has been the case
with many of Cuba's state-sponsored tourism initiatives. They argue that the
creation of seven new ministries could possibly serve as a step towards the
extension of decision-making power to Cuban communities. Even though foreign
investors seeking to operate in Cuba must obtain a license from one of these
new ministries--the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment
(CITMA)--the economic strife brought on by the Special Period and
concomitant shift from medium- and long-term to short-term planning, has led
to the use of weak licensing standards in some instances. Thus, it remains
to be seen whether or not these supposedly independent governing bodies will
be permitted, or even willing, to act in ways that could potentially subvert
the national economy. If they are not, it is unlikely that decision-making
power will be extended to individual Cubans. As the authors note, the
formation of civic groups in Cuba is still forbidden. Once again, the
authors locate their discussion within the ongoing debate regarding these
institutional changes, highlighting the varied conclusions drawn by scholars
including John Brohman (1996, 1997), Marifelli Perez-Stable (1997), and
Mauicio Font (1997).
It is clear that the authors are well versed in the most pertinent issues
relating to the impacts and development of urban tourism in Cuba, and
particularly in Havana, during the Special Period. Still, certain ideas
could have been developed further. They suggest that Western analyses of the
underdeveloped world--particularly in the context of tourism
development--could provide useful to information planners in developing
nations. Nevertheless, they do not offer suggestions as to precisely how
their work might be incorporated into Cuban planning. In the authors'
defense, though, the insular Cuban government may not be interested in the
recommendations of foreign academics anyway.
Furthermore, on a more minor note, the authors err in their assertion that
taxis specifically designated for Cubans avoid picking up tourists because
they face high fines. I have spent roughly five months in Cuba, and I have
had no trouble getting a machina (the Cuban word for these taxis that the
authors do not acknowledge) to pick me up. My own research on Cuban tourism
has also led me into countless conversations with foreign tourists. Most
tourists do not understand that machinas run fixed routes around the city.
Thus, if you ask a driver to go somewhere not on his or her route, they will
rarely offer you a ride. The fixed machina rate for Cubans is normally ten
pesos nacional ($U.S. 0.45), but some drivers attempt to charge foreign
tourists a higher rate--anywhere from twenty to forty pesos nacional. While
this fee is still often better than one would pay in a state-owned tourist
taxi, the seemingly arbitrary price structuring causes some tourists to
avoid using machinas. Other tourists are merely intimidated by the fact that
many machina drivers do not speak a language other than Spanish. While this
example is neither a glaring error nor a reflection of carelessness on the
authors' part, it does illustrate a dilemma for scholars of tourism. The
industry is all-encompassing, and one would likely need professional
training in multiple fields to fully understand all of its complexities.
Thus, for broad studies of the tourism industry, inclusion will always come
at the risk of oversimplification.
While the authors proclaim their book to be one of the most comprehensive
works dealing with tourism in Cuba (and in fact it is), they also
acknowledge its limits. Two of these are evident within the book's title.
Colantonio and Potter's focus on urban tourism neglects to address the
growing levels of rural tourism on the island, particularly in Vinales and
the Sierra Maestra. It also excludes the resort-based tourism that is so
prevalent in areas such as Varadero and Cayo Coco. Along similar lines,
their concentration on urban tourism in Havana ignores the other important
cities within Cuba's tourist world, for example, Santiago de Cuba, Santa
Clara, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos.
Despite these and several other minor criticisms, this is an extremely
useful book. It should be compulsory reading for students of Cuban tourism,
although individuals who are already quite familiar with the topic may find
themselves yearning for more. This is partly a result of the responsible
limits self-imposed by the authors. Nevertheless, their analysis of the
changes that have taken place in Havana during the Special Period as a
result of tourism is fascinating. As the book concludes, they also
illustrate the major role that tourism and the institutional changes that
have accompanied it will likely play as Cuban society braces itself for
change in the looming post-Castro era. Thus, the book becomes a tool for not
only those interested in Cuba's past, but the island's future as well.
Citation: John Gustavsen. "Review of Andrea Colantonio and Robert B. Potter,
Urban Tourism and Development in the Socialist State: Havana during the
"Special Period"," H-Travel, H-Net Reviews, July, 2007. URL:
Copyright © 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
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