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How to lose tourists
Horace Sutton
November 09, 1959
Meeting in Havana, travel agents learn firsthand why Cuba is a place to detour
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November 09, 1959

How To Lose Tourists

Meeting in Havana, travel agents learn firsthand why Cuba is a place to detour

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None of this appeared to be on Fidel's mind when he reappeared Wednesday night at the huge reception at the Havana Riviera Hotel tendered to the ASTA registration by the combined French travel interests. But that same night chanting mobs roared past the Hilton demanding the death of all enemies of the revolution, and the next morning Castro's own paper, Revolutión, devoted its entire front page to the headline THE PLANES CAME FROM THE U.S.

Thursday night Castro got in his own licks before his own crowd when he went on the air in a wild four-hour television address. The leaflet planes had by this time become bombers based in the U.S., the street explosions bombs. The outrage, he shouted, could only be compared in infamy and in importance with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the blowing up of the Maine.

By now there was feeling among many that blown, too, were the chances of Cuba's marvelous tourist campaign. One who didn't think so, apparently, was Castro himself who, in spite of the developing events, appeared at ASTA's final business session on Saturday morning. And apparently equally oblivious of the developing events, some ASTA brass awarded him a plaque for his help in making the convention a success. Touched, he invited the inner ASTA circle to a sudden lunch in a penthouse perched high above Havana. Dates were broken as the delegates rushed to lunch with the now friendly Premier. But, alas, their new friend and host did not show up.

Then, with President Dorticós, he appeared at the final banquet Saturday night and listened while U.S. Ambassador Bonsai got a rousing hand from the delegates. Bonsai, in turn, listened while ASTA gave Castro the only honorary membership to be awarded in its 29-year history.

The schizoid performances left both Havana and the delegates dazed. The first cab driver I talked to as the convention week had begun in Havana many days ago had said to me, "Getting tourists back here is up to you." "It isn't only up to us," I told him, and he understood. "If the big one will only close his mouth we will get tourists," he said. The last driver I talked to on the way to the airport said simply, "I would like to take my family and go with you. For 18 years I have been in this business, and for 18 years I have just sat around and waited for things to quiet down."

As the ASTA week ended, the wait was far from over. If Cuba wanted tourists more than it wanted to play war, it was time to put away the guns, sheathe the machetes and get a shave and a haircut. If it wanted to bring tourists to its beaches, to its fishing grounds, to its old Spanish towns, to its lovely greening hills, it was time to stop fanning hatred against the U.S.

Just a week to the day after Castro had wowed the delegates at their opening meeting, he arrived at a rally of 300,000 hysterical followers, descending from the skies by helicopter carrying a Belgian submachine gun. And then, while the campesinos cried for blood, the only honorary member of ASTA called for a return of the firing squads that had already killed 450, raged against "foreign vested interests," demanded independence for "our Puerto Rican brothers," excoriated the U.S., referred time and time again to the "bombing of Cuba" and finally deplored the damage to the Cuban economy caused by recent events. All the efforts of his regime to promote travel to Cuba, he noted sadly, had been in vain.

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