Local operators are suffering from a distinct lack of automatics cars. Better said, they are nonexistent. Why one would ask? Well, as of January 2010 a new rule was quietly introduced where automatic cars are only bookable through approved agencies such as Havanautos or Cuba Car
To combat this change and loss of business, local foreign agencies have begun to offer automatic cars with a “surcharge” payable in Cuba much like the mandatory car insurance or guarantee deposit. This surcharge is payable only in Cuba as a way of selling manual cars as automatics and leaving the final “surcharge of 5 CUC” per day of rental as the deciding factor as to whether the visitor gets and automatic or not. Of course, no automatics are available unless pre-booked through an approved agent so the visitor is left with a crunchy stick shift or nothing.
The complaints across the internet abound as a quick search over the forums would suggest. Automatic cars being mainly requested by North Americans seem to be this summer’s big dilemma for local operators. Last year’s was the influx of Cuban nationals selling out hotels before they could get their hands on occupancies for international tourists paying top dollar, this year it’s the absence of automatic cars or better said, their inability to procure confirmations of them.
Many in the industry see this as a precursor to 2011 which may see a complete lifting of US Travel Sanctions, allowing Americans to travel to the Island for the first time in 5 decades. The outcome for foreign agencies, which for some, the “cherry” of the lifting of sanctions has always been the illusive “cash out” for their many years in the country, could be as elusive as automatic cars have today become for them. With American agencies chomping at the bit for a slice of the action and, recently, a Cuban government sponsored conference in Cancun to court American agencies, one can only deduce that the islands 50,000 hotel rooms apt for international tourists (there are more but these are sub standard) will be scoffed up overnight by American agencies leaving the local foreign agencies with the dregs of a few bargain basement 2 star Hotels deemed inadequate for the North American market.
As the country depends heavily on the Cuban American for income, compounded by a the international economic crisis, these new and lucrative markets are being inched away from foreign agencies, some of whom, have been in Cuba for almost two decades playing a waiting game.