Airbnb Opens its Doors in Cuba

Airbnb, the online home-rental marketplace that operates in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries, is adding Cuba to its global community. Starting this week, hosts in Cuba will list more than 1,000 of their homes on Airbnb. The move makes Airbnb one of the first U.S. companies to offer accommodations for licensed U.S. travelers since President Obama eased travel restrictions to Cuba in January.

In an Airbnb blog post, the company explained that Cubans have been welcoming visitors into their homes for decades. Casas particulares—a network of private homestays—have been a popular choice for visitors, as well as an important source of income for thousands of Cuban families, the post stated. “Because we’re building on the rich Cuban tradition of home sharing, we’re uniquely positioned to help Cubans reap the rewards of economic growth while preserving their unique culture.”

But expanding an Internet service to Cuba presents a series of challenges, including slow and unreliable Web access, limited payment options, and the ongoing U.S. embargo, Bloomberg writes. That’s why the company is starting small with only 1,000 listings, approximately 40 percent of which are available in Havana. Airbnb Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Nathan Blecharczyk told Bloomberg that its model will help Cuba facilitate travel growth that isn’t disruptive, since it doesn’t require mass development.

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Airbnb expects significant demand for Cuban accommodations from the United States, the company said in a news release. After President Obama’s policy changes were announced in December, Airbnb saw a 70 percent spike in searches from U.S. users for listings in Cuba. In 2015, Cuba has already become one of the company’s most searched for destinations in Latin America, with more Americans searching for it than Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, or Mexico City.

Americans booking travel on Airbnb will be required to attest that they are traveling to Cuba under one of the 12 license categories permitted by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.