Appreciate Havana like a local
Effort and passion clearly define the path of Mario Otero, Yolexis Rodríguez and their business Mayito’s B&B. I can tell you about the effort, but the passion can be seen and experienced in each of the apartments they manage. Mario’s spontaneous and carefree personality, the desire to share his knowledge with people from other countries, and his degree in Tourism led him to see the accommodation sector as the perfect place to start a business; but how?
The first project emerged thanks to all his savings; money that, together with the money he earned working in a travel agency, he poured into his father’s apartment. After a year of renovations and improvements, and the same with another apartment, from scratch, together with his wife, Yolexis, Mario made the leap to Airbnb. Following their rapid success, they envisaged their experience as a solid business and focused on becoming property managers.
If at first they assumed that more houses would mean more income, practice showed them that quality, commitment and attention to detail should take precedence over quantity. Once Yolexis, as a communications professional, took charge of laying the strategic foundations and business processes, they decided to establish themselves in a family circle following their own guidelines and basic international requirements.
How has the venture evolved since those first steps?
“We started working with professional photographers and learnt from Airbnb’s good practices,” Yolexis notes. “When Mario’s father’s apartment on Infanta and San Lazaro streets was ready, we added it to our Airbnb profile and the 5 star reviews increased exponentially. After obtaining Superhost status, we started managing other properties until we reached the current ten.”
“As it’s been a gradual process, we have been gaining experience along the way. We offer a spectacular reference service to the client; from the moment they contact us we send them some guides with tips about Cuba, how our country works, the restaurants we recommend and a series of activities that we are in a position to coordinate if they wish,” all this maintaining constant contact, from long before they arrive in the country.
How do you manage ten accommodations at the same time?
As Mario explains, he is in charge of operations; “I deal with everything from maintenance to supervising, receiving or seeing off our guests, or dealing with any problems. She (Yolexis) takes care of office issues, coordination, calls, responds to clients and manages feedback. In addition, as we have grown a little, we have two managers, who also have a license to manage accommodation, those in charge of cleaning and laundry, one for each space, and the owners of the houses, who support us with any issue, customer complaint or suggestion for improvement,” as when they add someone to the team they always focus on human quality, education, respect and their level of commitment to the activity.
“In our business, it is very easy to monitor the good functioning of the process, because Airbnb has a well-defined system of evaluations and reviews, which allows us to know where there is an oversight. And when a category does not have five stars you know that there is a problem, so it is very easy to meet with the owner or communicate with the guest and immediately address the problem.
“With a lot of modesty and work, we have managed to create a certain credibility and image of success in our sector. We oversee the renovation of several properties ourselves, and we have already identified a team of self-employed construction workers with whom we always handle all repairs and maintenance, and who are very committed to us because we give them work almost year-round.”
Why try to convey the experience of a local to visitors?
“It has always been a principle for us to show customers the real Cuba, through our eyes,” Mario explains. “We know all the shortcomings, problems and difficulties that exist in this country, but without lying to our guests, we try to transmit the energy and optimism of Cubans. We like them to take away the reality of Cuba, all this contrasted with high standard quality in our properties, since they are in a very authentic and modest area.” To this we must add that they share the places they like to visit with clients, provide them with a cell phone in each apartment to communicate with the staff at any time, and the taxi drivers recommended by the business speak English, as well as offering classic, highly comfortable American cars.
Which is your main customer sector, and what do they experience here?
“In our marketing strategy, the couples and family segments are clearly defined, because they are the ones we believe we can offer the greatest value to. For a young couple or a family, we like to give them surprises, like a kind of honeymoon or quality time for those who come with their children. We go out together to eat, we have breakfast together, we go to discos,” Mario notes. “When they let us know they are coming for someone’s birthday, or a honeymoon or anniversary, we always have a gesture at check-in, in accordance with the event, and that is a plus that they love and thank us for,” Yolexis adds.
What’s missing? What’s the goal?
“We have an optimistic outlook for a change of administration in the United States, which would help us grow as a business, since our clients are mostly Americans. Also, for our government to make the private sector more flexible, so we can operate without fear of stepping over the legal limits, and compete with both the state and private sectors,” responds Mario, who notes his dream as an entrepreneur is on hold as a legislative framework for it does not yet exist.
“We would like to be an incoming travel agency. We believe that we have all the information and management capacity to take care of a client’s entire trip, from the flight, to the meals, accommodation, activities. Right now we are very limited, as we can only focus on accommodation. Recently, the Minister of Labor made statements about not limiting the creativity of entrepreneurs, and we are very excited for this to start, to launch new projects.
With this in mind, their work in times of the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped, and they have made necessary renovations to increase the quality of their management and services to levels that are not widespread in Cuba. Meanwhile, they are evaluating the addition of new spaces, but with a discreet growth. In the face of these challenges, Mario recommends that anyone in this sector guides their business with two passions: “The first of them must be excellence, providing the best possible service. And the second is a passion for being a host, for enjoying every minute from the moment a client makes a reservation request, until he/she writes us a review once back home.”
Becoming a Property Manager in Cuba
A Property Manager is guaranteed legal status in Cuba, since there is an Accommodation Manager operating license, whose scope defines the possibility of managing several properties. There are some limits, such as selling excursions or tours, but you can focus on generating profitability with the owner of the house you manage. In addition, you can hold a Lessor license and a Manager license if you manage your own property and others that you don’t own.
Reviews of Mayito’s B&B
Bruce Woodall: Our stay was absolutely fantastic. Mario and Oscar did everything they could to make our trip as easy and as stress-free as possible. They were swift and thorough in their communication. They offered taxi service from and back to the airport. They provided great suggestions on where to visit and where to eat while in Havana. The apartment was perfectly clean and had everything we could have wanted and more. Thanks for allowing us to have such a smooth and fun trip.
Cindy Louis: Mario’s place was beyond perfect. Good location, with accessible Wi-Fi down the street. Check-in was simple. Mario & Yoly went out of their way to make us feel welcome & comfortable. It was my friend’s birthday and Yoly surprised us with a cake baked from scratch! They even provided us with a cell phone to use during our stay, we were able to make reservations, arrange cab pickups and speak to hosts whenever necessary. There was an amazing restaurant directly across the street where we had breakfast daily. The apartment looks just like the pictures, super cute, spacious and clean.
Kyle Richardson: This is the perfect place to call home for your visit to Havana! The location is great, a short walk to most of the top attractions. The space was even better than advertised; however, the best part is the service! From home cooked breakfast to tour bookings, Mario is a fantastic host who will make sure your visit to Havana is a memorable one. Will definitely stay again next time.
Jennifer Ferrare Diffenbaugh: My husband and I just returned from a 5-day trip to Cuba, it was amazing. Mario and the house manager Felix were wonderful. We were picked up at the airport on arrival as promised. The apartment was very clean and in a great location in Havana. The fridges were stocked and Wi-Fi cards available for purchase in the room. It exceeded our expectations.