Photo Credit: EngageCUBA
Concierge Havana is a Cuba-based travel agency that provides itinerary service to Americans traveling to Cuba for business or pleasure, including restaurants reservations, booking luxury accommodations, transportation, and specialized tours during the trip.
Celia Mendoza, Founder of Concierge Havana, spoke at the luncheon hosted by Global Innovation Forum in 2017.
In Cuba, all internet services are provided by state-owned telecommunication company and primarily provided through WIFI hotspots around the country. Up until July 2017, there are 380 WIFI spots in Cuba, shared by Mendoza during TechFreedom’s podcast – Engaging Cuba. Cuban entrepreneurs are leveraging the internet to scale globally and succeed.
In the case of Concierge Havana, the team uses Facebook and Instagram as main channels to reach potential customers. The limited internet connectivity does not allow them to use the social media platforms as easy as it does in the U.S. But entrepreneurs are able to develop workarounds to limited connectivity because they know it can benefit their business.
Mendoza explained that when sending pictures of properties to potential clients, she must ask everyone in their office to disconnect from the internet. Regardless, the internet has been an immeasurable boon; her concierge services became very in-demand after it was visited by a social media influencer and travel writer.
Like other businesses in private sector businesses of Cuba, the U.S. policy uncertainty towards the communist-ruled country does impact Mendoza’s business as well – especially the new restriction announced by President Trump. According to Mendoza, new restrictions that make it harder for individual American citizens to travel to Cuba would make it more difficult for her to compete against the large government-run agencies. She also indicated that new policies restricting American travel to Cuba would direct more revenue to the Cuban government, and eliminate the “Person-to-Person” business provisions would harm her business.
Besides limited internet connect and policy uncertainty, Concierge Havana faces particular challenges around access to global payments and financial services systems. “We don’t have credit cards in Cuba, that means clients have to travel with lots of cash. I cannot ask for money in advance, if clients cancel I lose money because I’m the one paying for deposits,” told Mendoza.