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Home-Rental Marketplace Airbnb Offers Lodging Options to U.S. Travellers Visiting Cuba

First Posted: Apr 06, 2015 04:00 PM EDT
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The San Francisco-based community-driven, home-rental marketplace Airbnb features property listings located in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries. And the latest nation to open its doors to U.S. travellers via Airbnb is Cuba.

According to reports, more than 1,000 properties across Cuba have been listed for U.S. visitors who are eager to tour the nation for private and/or business purposes. Forty percent of the properties listed on the site are located in the nation's capital, Havana. And Cienfuegos and Santa Clara, popular tourist destinations, also offer housing to tourists visiting the island.

Cuba already has a pre-existing network of affordable homestays ("casa particulares"), which have existed in Cuba since the early 1990s. Entire apartments and private rooms are made available for a little as $27 per night. And attractive colonial homes or renovated pre-war apartments in Old Havana, and long-standing houses in the 500-year old town of Trinidad, have been made available for $36 an evening. Airbnb has tapped into that network.

"For over 50 years, Cuba has been out of reach for most Americans. We couldn't be more excited that, starting today, licensed US travellers will now be able to experience the unique culture and warm hospitality that makes the island so special through our new Cuban community," said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder, in a public statement.

Already, Cuba has become one of the most searched destinations in Latin America, according to Airbnb. There has been a 70 percent spike in U.S. searches for rental in Cuba on the site, and a "soaring demand" for lodging in Cuba. Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Mexico City are also prime travel destinations for U.S. travellers.

However, Airbnb accommodations will be booked through Cuba's subpar internet speed and weak telephone connections, meaning taking advantage of rental spaces in Cuba will be difficult at times. Airbnb relies solely on online payments, as cash payments and offline payments pose greater risk of fraud and other security issues.

The new Airbnb arrangement could potentially help to normalize relations with Cuba. And it would help to attract thousands to the nation's tropical climate, diverse terrain and expansive cultural influence.

President Barack Obama has drawn back restrictions, which were set when the embargo imposed during the early 1960s. Obama eased the travel ban, allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely to Cuba. And he permitted students and missionaries to travel, if qualified. In late 2014, Obama met with Raul Castrol to reestablish economic policies and diplomatic relations, in addition to loosening travel bans. As of January 2015, U.S. and Cuban officials were in talks to lift the embargo, which could cheapen the cost of exports from Cuba, and change Cuba's access to clean water, medicine, food and economic needs.

Airbnb's arrival in Cuba signifies an alternative to expensive, high-end hotels. Non-U.S. travelers are not able to book in Cuba through Airbnb at this time. However, Airbnb is also seeking authorization to serve non-U.S. travelers in Cuba, also. 

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