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Cuba’s tourism industry is struggling to keep up as a record number of visitors from around the globe are flocking to the Caribbean island. International buzz ignited after the United States and Cuba agreed to restore diplomatic relations, with many travelers clamoring to see the country ahead of the U.S. tourism surge. Cuba welcomed a record 3.52 million visitors last year, a 17.4 percent increase from 2014, according to Reuters. While American travel to Cuba is still restricted to visitors who fall into one of 12 categories, including those on religious, sporting, or educational exchanges, American visits in 2015 managed to rise 77 percent to 161,000, Reuters reports. To further facilitate travel, the United States today announced changes to its sanctions on Cuba, lifting export payment and financing restrictions and facilitating airline travel. Many of the island’s 63,000 hotel rooms are already booked through 2016. Cuba is looking for foreign investment to meet growing demand, with plans to reach 85,000 rooms by 2020. To learn more, click here.

A recent United States Transactions Trend Report from Lodging Econometrics (LE) has found that hotel transactions in 2015 hit an eight-year high. Last year, there were a reported 1,575 individual hotel and portfolio transactions (excluding merger & acquisition activity), compared to 1,491 in 2014. The 1,575 hotel transactions in 2015 are still 28 percent lower than the peak of 2007, which had 2,178 transactions.

According to the latest United States Construction Pipeline Trend Report from Lodging Econometrics (LE), the total U.S. hotel construction pipeline ended 2015 with 4,413 projects/546,135 rooms. This is the highest year-end total since 2008, but still below the 2007 cyclical high of 5,438 projects/718,387 rooms.

There are 1,312 projects currently under construction, up 226 projects or 21 percent year-over-year (YOY). Projects scheduled to start in the next 12 months, at 1,926 projects, have shown significant increases, adding 575 projects and are up 43 percent YOY. Projects in early planning, with 1,175 projects, decreased by 33 projects and are down 3 percent YOY.

While speaking at the 2016 U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., yesterday, Airbnb’s head of global policy, Chris Lehane, had an interesting offer for the powerful men and women in attendance: To team up and Airbnb would start collecting more taxes. This flies in the face of the lodging industry, which has been outspoken in its disapproval of the way Airbnb runs its business, especially how Airbnb hosts tend to break a litany of local laws and regulations by renting out rooms full time. To read more, click here.

Ever since Marriott International announced plans to acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide back in November, the industry has been buzzing about the merger that would create the world’s largest hotel company. Hotel News Now Editorial Director Jeff Higley combed through a 295-page regulatory filing to find the 15 most interesting facts related to the deal. While some reports indicate that more than 30 companies reached out or were contacted during the process, Higley says it came down to Marriott and 10 others that expressed serious interest in Starwood. The $12.2 billion deal is expected to close mid-year. Read more of his takeaways here.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), the sole national association representing all segments of the nearly two million-employee lodging industry, has issued a statement following votes in both chambers of Maryland’s General Assembly to override the veto by Governor Hogan of SB 190, closing a loophole for online travel companies and ensuring they pay their fair share of taxes on rooms booked online.

“The hotel industry applauds Maryland senators and delegates for overriding Governor Hogan’s veto of legislation that protects Maryland’s jobs and secures millions of dollars in uncollected tax revenue that supports so much of the infrastructure, tourism promotion, local development and economic growth in communities across the state. This commonsense legislation marks an important step forward in creating a level playing field by ensuring online travel companies will no longer exploit this tax loophole. They will now be required to pay the same occupancy taxes as hotels do,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

“Our industry prides itself on being a partner with communities across the state of Maryland, and the Maryland Hotel & Lodging Association (MH&LA) is absolutely essential to building those relationships and driving growth in the state. Maryland hotels generate more than $1.2 billion in tax revenue, and through the leadership of the President & CEO of the MH&LA Amy Rohrer, as well as Marriott International, and our member properties across the state, Maryland’s legislators recognized the importance to right this wrong and close a loophole that has benefited online travel companies at the expense of in-state hotels employing thousands of Marylanders.”

To view the hotel industry’s contributions to economic growth and job creation in Maryland, please click here.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently released its 2015 Visa Openness Report, which shows that the percentage of the world’s population that needed a visa to travel in 2015 dropped 14 percent from the percentage required in 1980. The UNWTO report includes several charts that illustrate the different ways visa programs have changed in the last 35 years. To view the charts, click here.

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