Cuba develops first e-commerce platform to promote post-pandemic tourism

Miguel Menendez, 30, is one of the developers of Cuba’s first e-commerce platform to promote tourism industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the tightening U.S. embargo against the island.

Talents from the private sector in Cuba have joined a government initiative to improve e-commerce operations and merchandising strategies for the country’s second provider of hard currency earnings.

Menendez, a software developer who graduated in computer science from the University of Havana in 2013, believes that the computerization of the Cuban society will improve access to services provided by hotel, tour agencies and car rentals for foreign and local tourists at a time when “physical distancing is more important than ever.”

“We have put all the tourist services together. This platform will be operated by many people ranging from tour operators to house owners working in the hospitality sector,” he said. “It is going to work as a global distribution center.”

Working on the second floor of a colonial building in Havana’s historic center, Menendez and a group of some 30 young engineers and designers were busy writing notes, discussing and getting the latest news in the world’s tech sector.

“COVID-19 has urged the world to build cashless societies. So, the use of state-of-the-art technologies can make tourists feel more comfortable in the country,” Eduardo Bermudez, leader of the project told Xinhua. “Cuba has a high potential to develop software and applications.”

The Cuban hospitality sector continues to work on the automatization of processes at hotel facilities and the development of online platforms to minimize physical interaction with clients.

Havanatur S.A., the country’s largest tour operator and travel agency, is leading the implementation of the digital platform to draw local and international tourists.

“This platform is 100 percent Cuban,” Evelyn Guillarte, director general of Havanatur, said on TV. “It is also connected to online payment systems we have in the country. People will be able to pay online by using their mobiles.”

As part of the computerization process of the Cuban society, more than 3.7 million people on the island have accessed mobile Internet since December 2018 after the government invested in infrastructure acquired from different countries, including China.

Cuba has 6.5 million Internet users and 1,600 public WIFI hotspots in parks, avenues and hotel facilities, according to the country’s communications ministry.

For thousands of Cubans working in the hospitality sector, the return of international tourists to the island and the launching of the digital platform to promote their businesses are both good news.

The Caribbean nation partially reopened borders to international tourists in early July after easing three-month restrictions, allowing foreign visitors to enter resorts in the northern and southern keys of the island.

“I am looking forward to registering on the new digital platform to promote Cuban tourism,” said 37-year-old Gemma Contreras, who rents two apartments for tourists in central Havana.

“We have many things to offer, but not everybody knows about it,” she added. 

   by Yosley Carrero