Obama administration’s OK means Airbnb can open its Cuba bookings to all travelers
Online lodging service Airbnb is allowing travelers from around the world to book stays in private homes in Cuba after the San Francisco-based company received a special authorization from the Obama administration, Airbnb announced Sunday.
Airbnb was the first major American company to enter Cuba after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014. The service handles online listing, booking and payments for people looking to stay in private homes instead of hotels. Cuba has become its fastest-growing market, with about 4,000 homes added over the last year.
Fans jump to their feet as Cuba’s first batter hits a single against the Tampa Rays during an exhibition game at Estadio Latinoamericano.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Tampa Rays players carry Cuban children during opening ceremonies at an exhibition baseball game between wiith the Cuban National Team.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rays center fielder Mikie Mahtook chuckles as a dove flies overhead during an exhibition game between Tampa and the Cuban National Team.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Cuba National Team members wait for opening ceremonies to begin moments before an exhibition game against the Tampa Rays at Estadio Latinoamericano.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Onlookers crane to shoot smartphone images of President Obama, who is stationed more than a block away at the El Gran Teatro de Havana in Central Havana.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Cubans wave to President Obama as he passes through central Havana.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
President Obama meets with dissidents and other Cubans at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. From left are Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzalez and Manuel Cuesta Morua.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
Maria Castro, left, and Laritza Mojenas cheer for President Obama from the front door of a Havana home.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Angel Tapia, 72, right, watches President Obama’s speech.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
President Obama delivers a speech at the Gran Teatro de la Habana in Havana.(Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban President Raul Castro lifts up the arm of President Barack Obama at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
Cristina Vareaes, right, and friend Mercedes Lopez, watch President Barack Obama answer questions at a news conference with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on Monday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Military school students watch the Cuba National baseball team practice at the Estadio Latinoamericano. The Cuban team will play the Tampa Rays in an exhibition game.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A statue of a famous Cuban baseball fan, Armando Luis Torres Torres, sits in the lower level seats along the third base line at Estadio Latinoamericano. President Obama is scheduled to watch a game in the stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
President Barack Obama, along with his daughter, waves to well wishers as he tours Old Havana with his family soon after touching down on Air Force One, becoming the first sitting President since Calvin Coolidge to visit Cuba.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
People wait in Central Havana to get a glimpse of President Obama.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez as First Lady Michelle Obama looks on upon arrival at the airport in Havana on Sunday.(Ismael Francisco / Associated Press)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive Sunday at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on Air Force One.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
The plane carrying President Obama lands in Havana on Sunday.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists stand next to a sign showing President Obama, right, and Cuba President Raul Castro next to the Cathedral in Old Havana.(Enric Mart / Associated Press)
Policewomen drag away members of Ladies in White, a women’s dissident group that calls for the release of political prisoners, during the group’s weekly protest in Havana on Sunday.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
Waves crash well beyond the seawall along Havana’s Malecon as a storm hangs over Cuba for a second straight day.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Airbnb had only been allowed to let U.S. travelers use its services in Cuba under a relatively limited Obama administration exception to the half-century old US trade embargo on the island. The expansion of that license gives Airbnb the ability to become a one-stop shop for travelers seeking lodging in private homes, which have seen a flood of demand from travelers seeking an alternative to state-run hotels.
Airbnb’s new authorization was announced on the morning of an historic three-day trip by Obama to Cuba and a day after Starwood Hotels announced that it had signed a deal to run three Cuban hotels, becoming the first U.S. hotel company in Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and took over the island’s hotels. Airbnb said world travelers could begin booking in Cuba in April 2, the anniversary of the country’s start of operations on the island.
Also on Sunday, Marriott International Inc. said it had gained Treasury Department authorization to pursue a deal in Cuba. The hotel company, which is based in Bethesda, Maryland, said it is in talks with potential partners on the island. Its CEO, Arne Sorenson, is in Cuba with Obama’s delegation.
All hotels in Cuba are now owned by gover
nment agencies and many are known for poor service and decrepit infrastructure. Foreign hotel chains operate some of the island’s larger and more luxurious hotels, which are running at full capacity thanks to a post-detente boom in tourism that saw visitor numbers surge nearly 20 percent last year.
One of the first openings in Cuba’s centrally planned economy came when the government allowed families to rent rooms in their homes for a few dollars a night, starting in the 1990s. That has become a full-blown private hospitality industry, with many Cubans using capital from relatives abroad and even foreign investors to transform crumbling homes into the equivalents of small boutique hotels.
Many websites allow foreigners to book Cuban private homes, known as “casas particulares,” but none has emerged as a dominant player. Many travelers still find it hard to guarantee bookings and make electronic or credit card payments. Airbnb is promoting its service as a solution to those problems in Cuba.