Airbnb launches Cuba listings for US tourists
Wildly popular online home-sharing service now allows bookings from American travellers for more than 1,000 available Cuban lodgings
The online lodging service Airbnb has announced the launch of listings in Cuba for American visitors, in another sign of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries.
More than 1,000 Cuban lodgings available for US tourists have been listed on the Airbnb network, according to a company statement last week.
"For over 50 years, Cuba has been out of reach for most Americans," Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said.
"We couldn't be more excited that … 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."
Washington and Havana have been moving towards normalising relations after more than 50 years of US economic sanctions and are in talks on reopening embassies.
President Barack Obama is keen for the two countries to reopen embassies before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday.
American travel to Cuba remains limited for now to people with Cuban relatives or those visiting in a handful of categories such as for academic, sport, religious or cultural purposes.
Airbnb will allow Cubans to rent rooms or entire homes under Cuban regulations allowing small enterprise.
Because the internet is not widely available to individuals in Cuba, Airbnb said it was working with web hosting partners to help the property owners manage online requests and bookings.
Airbnb said it was working with Cuba's large network of "casas particulares", or traditional private lodgings run by local micro-entrepreneurs.
"Over 1,000 casas particulares owners have added their homes to Airbnb's global community," the statement said.
Roughly 40 per cent of Airbnb's available listings in Cuba are in Havana, with the rest in cities including Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara, and expansion to other areas likely.
"Airbnb expects significant demand for Cuban accommodations from the US," the statement said.
"After President Obama's policy changes were announced in December, Airbnb saw a 70 per cent [surge] in searches from US users for listings in Cuba."
With sanctions easing, Cuba is bracing for what could be a surge in visitors that could easily overwhelm its small tourism industry.
The communist-run island has few high-end hotels, and travellers often find them at capacity, with the shortage especially notable outside the capital.
Cuba's tourism minister estimates that a million additional tourists could come to the island annually, on top of the three million that already visit each year from all over the world.