The lodging rental startup announced in a blog post in February
that it's expanding to Cuba, offering travelers 1,000 homes to choose from
. The move makes Airbnb one of the first tech companies to capitalize on the improving diplomatic relations between the neighboring countries, but it won't be the last, as American businesses across the country eye Cuba as a potential source of growth.
Companies like Airbnb will be case studies in how challenging that is to pull off. For starters, the Internet is a rarity in Cuba, with just about a quarter of Cubans currently connected, according to a 2012 report
. Then there's the fact that Americans still can't use their credit cards in Cuba, making it impossible for Airbnb and other companies to accept online payments. According to Bloomberg
, in order to make its Cuba expansion possible, Airbnb is working with a money remitter in Florida that makes payments to hosts on Airbnb's behalf.
But for Airbnb's leadership team, these workarounds are well worth it. According to a press release about the expansion, after President Obama announced in December that the United States would be changing its policies regarding Cuba, the site saw a 70% spike in searches for Cuban listings. And this year, Cuba is one of the most frequently searched destinations in Latin America. In some ways, Airbnb is a perfect fit for Cuba, which already has a rich history of "casas particulares," or private homestays that help encourage tourism in Cuba.
"When we founded Airbnb in 2008, our dream was to help create a world where you could belong anywhere, and that vision has taken root in almost every country in the world," Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said in a statement. "For over 50 years, Cuba has been out of reach for most Americans. We couldn't be more excited that, starting today, licensed U.S. travelers will now be able to experience the unique culture and warm hospitality that makes the island so special through our new Cuban community."
The key word there is "licensed." Though it's getting easier to travel to Cuba, it's still far from a free for all. Today, straight-up tourism is still off limits, but travelers can get to Cuba if they can prove they're going for one of the 12 reasons
approved by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. And in order to book a room on Airbnb, travelers will have to confirm that their travel reason falls under the general license
for accepted entry into Cuba.
Members of Congress are now working to lift those remaining restrictions on travel. In the meantime, though, if you've got a good reason to travel to Cuba, now might be a good time to use it. You can currently snag this beautiful villa
for $38 a night.
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