What is the difference between reserving a guided tour from the hotel or risking it with an offer from a small private agency? In the case of Cubaoutings, it’s the personalised attention, accentuated by interacting with a small business whose owners are the very same guides who reveal the interior of the island to you.
“They show you the real Cuba, and that is what we wanted to experience: get to know the good and the bad and the ugly. We didn’t want the impression given by a luxury resort”. Katarina M decided that trips to the most famous tourist sites and the photos taken from inside the window of a climate controlled bus were not going to be enough. Because of that, she looked among the offers on the internet and found Cubaouting, a private agency described by its owners as “the best way to get to know Cuba”.
“The clients have various way of booking. They can contact us directly from the web, via our email, or via our social media: Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn”. Gloria Machado León, co-owner of the business, guide and organiser, told OnCuba. She share various administrative roles along with her husband, Félix Michel Navarro Bravo.
The opening and proliferation of private businesses in Cuba has motivated the emergence of many of the new ideas. That’s how two translators-interpretors graduated from the University of Matanzas, decided, after 12 years of experience with a state agency – Cubanacán – decided that this was the time to launch themselves as an independent business and began their own business in 2012. Then the problem was, how to get clients?
One of the values of Cubaoutings is that it has never had a physical headquarters. Yes, you read it right: one of the “values”. That means that in four years they have been able to take advantage of the communication and information technologies in order to connect with people, even from a country that is virtually unconnected. Their clients cannot be surprised when they get “quick answers” in TripAdvisor, “establish a nice email communication with Gloria or Felix”(Mike B from Trenton, Canada) and, finally, the whole online reservation process was “extremely easy” (Rishi S, also from Canada).
Another positive aspect that the clients of Cubaoutings seem to agree on is the price. Even the Canadian Rishi S asks how this business has found a way to turn a profit on the prices that they offer bearing in mind the costs of the trip, food, accommodation and guides: each one of these services provided to a satisfactory manner.
Hizumi M had decided to celebrate his wedding in Varadero when it occurred to him to give his closest guests the gift of a day-trip to Havana. But he was not happy with the packages that his travel agent offered and he wrote to Cubaoutings from Canada. “Felix was punctual, professional and very precise in all of his emails. I know what I’m talking about because I have worked in customer services”. The reservation was done two months in advance: “I never thought that the trip would be so cost-effective and easy to organise, and from a distance”, Hizumi added.
Among all the official services offered by Cubaoutings you can find excursions, circuits, transfers, guided trips and accommodation. Although there are tourist routes and fixed deals, Gloria assures that “each excursion is different, because each client has their own initiatives and interests and we adapt to them”. For example, the Londoner Anthony W enjoyed a visit to a Havana cigar factory: there he got to know the details of the production process, the main brands and the ways of packing them. He, of course, took some examples home as a souvenir: “Best Puros Ever”.
Where can we go with the guides and the drivers from Cubaoutings? Havana, Varadero, Península de Zapata, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, among other destinations covered by the business. All their staff offer an experience where the value lies not just in giving random facts about the historic site but rather sharing ideas about the life of people in the place, about the special way in which the Cubans interact. Without forgetting the small tropical pleasures, like the combination of piña colada and the spectacular scenery over the bridge of Bacunayagua.
According to MerryKat, level four TripAdvisor partner, considers that Felix is a “fantastic ambassador for Cuba”. His companion Gloria doesn’t lag behind in the ratings: the English user 754rasab, wit level 3 on the most famous internet travel platform, wrote that “I could never recommend the services of Cubaboutings enough, in particular the fantastic guide Gloria, who was a charming, intelligent and communicative person.”
For this young entrepreneur, being a tourist guide is something more than showing off historic areas and knowing languages: “We should have a good sense of humour, be comprehensive, study our client’s profile, have the ability to make decisions in unforeseen circumstances, have a lot of tact and be very careful with certain words, phrases and gestures.”
Beyond the vintage trip that a road trip in classic cars seems to tourists, Cubaoutings and its staff prefer to think in terms of “adventure”. Although you are traveling alone, in a couple or in a group, you good treatment (in Spanish, English, French, Italian and German) begins before the moment in which you meet up with the guides and drivers. Once you are there, prepare yourself to live what Claire R describes as “a perfect balance between keeping you busy and feeling relaxed”.