Tourist Safety in Cuba

Team Leader: Mary Peplinski

Author: Natalie Miller

Keywords: Safety, tourism, Cuba, crime, climate, political risk

Safety, as it affects the Cuban tourism industry, includes how the risk and incidence of crime, natural disasters and other accidents impact tourists visiting the country. The Cuban government does not publish statistics on crime and safety in the country. However, foreign estimates give Cuba a medium rating on crime. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the homicide rate in Cuba to be 4.7%, lower than the majority of the Caribbean and South America. Civilian firearm possession is also comparatively low at only 2%, due to Cuba’s strict gun laws. Under these conditions the incidence of violent crime against tourists is negligible.

Other safety concerns impacting the tourism industry include petty crime, hustling and prostitution, climate hazards, infectious disease and road safety. Petty and non-confrontational crime rates continue to rise and include pick-pocketing, purse snatching and thefts from unoccupied cars and accommodations. While perpetrators of these crimes may congregate around tourist hotels in Havana, they are more common outside of regular tourist areas. The risk of these crimes can be mitigated by advising tourists to practice discretion when exhibiting their valuables and choosing to travel in areas populated by other tourists. Furthermore, travellers should be advised that engaging in the illegal markets for prostitutes or drugs while in Cuba increases their likelihood of being involved in violent or non-confrontational crime. 

Cuba’s climate poses a significant risk for the tourism industry due to hurricanes, flooding and the potential for large-scale earthquakes. Over 20 billion US dollars in damage has occurred due to extreme weather in the last eight years. The government currently responds to these natural disasters by enforcing mandatory evacuations of areas impacted by extreme weather. Mitigation efforts to be undertaken can include constructing buildings that are resistant to extreme weather and earthquakes and allocating a budget to cover potential damages from such events. A well-designed emergency protocol that tourists are made aware of is also essential to minimize risk.

The incidence of infectious disease in Cuba is rated intermediate by the World Fact Book with bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, dengue fever and cholera posing the greatest risks. Outbreaks of these diseases are considered to be underreported by the Cuban government. Rates of infectious disease are not higher than those reported in other tourist destinations in the Caribbean, Central, and South America. Travelers can limit their risk to these diseases by reviewing the recommended vaccinations. Medical care is available in Cuba although all hospitals including the Cira Garcia Hospital which serves foreigners are below North American standards.

Road safety in Cuba is a leading cause of accidents and death. Drivers should be advised that poor road conditions, lack of lighting, and difficulty marking locations of accidents for oncoming drivers can pose a danger to those travelling by road.

Political unrest in Cuba does not pose much threat to general safety in the country. Under Cuba’s one-party system, protests and resistance are usually quickly repressed by the government, preventing wider unrest from emerging. Without freedom of the press or internet dissonant messages, including those inciting political resistance, are classified as “enemy propaganda” and considered illegal. The political risk of social unrest will rise in the case of an uneasy transition between Raul Castro and a subsequent leader, if reforms do not become increasingly liberal or if living standards do not rise.

The United States and Cuba continue to complete deals which are projected to increase American tourism to the country. An increase in Americans travelling to Cuba is expected to result in an increase of criminal activity and reported crimes according to the Cuba 2015 Crime and Safety Report.

Perceived threats to safety may be more consequential to Cuba’s tourism industry than actual threats. Americans, impacted by the United States negative relations with Cuba, cite concerns about safety when travelling to Cuba. These perceptions were seen to improve after they had visited the country.