International

US On-Demand Travel Market Preps For Cuba

With Cuba’s borders (more) open for business, a number of U.S.-based, on-demand travel companies are making their presence known in the island nation.

According to a recent Associated Press article, San Francisco-based Airbnb received special permission from the Obama administration to start listing in-home stays in Cuba in Dec. 2014. Since then, Cuba has become the company’s fastest-growing market, with 4,000 listings added in the last year, fueled in large part by a 20 percent increase in tourism since detente was declared by the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Now, Airbnb, the online listing, booking and payments service provider, which offers people an alternative to hotels by connecting them to private homes available for short-term stays, has been granted an expansion of its license, according to AP, to do business in Cuba and gain a route to grow its footprint even more. Airbnb now looks to become a one-stop shop for travelers seeking an alternative to the island’s state-run hotels.

But Airbnb won’t be able to ascend to the top of the Cuban tourism food chain without some healthy competition. According to Reuters, Priceline’s Booking.com has struck a deal with the Cuban government to make Cuban hotel rooms available to U.S. customers via its online reservation portal.

Booking.com Americas Managing Director Todd Dunlap told Reuters in a recent interview that the company would allow Americans traveling to Cuba to reserve and pay for rooms at a number of Cuban and foreign hotels, starting in several weeks.

According to Reuters, Booking.com will operate initially in Havana and plans on working with foreign companies already in Cuba, including France’s Accor and Spanish chains Meliá Hotels International SA and NH Hotel Group SA. It was also working on deals with state-run Cuban chains.

U.S-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is also entering the hospitality market in Cuba, inking an agreement with the Cuban government to manage and market three Havana hotel properties. It seems the competition is heating up in the tropical nation, which holds much allure to those in the U.S..

It should be noted that the hospitality marketing in Cuba was not nonexistent. Aside from state-run hotels and a handful of foreign-run luxury properties operating on the island, a boutique, private, in-home hotel industry is alive and well in Cuba. In the 1990s, the Cuban government began allowing families to rent rooms in their homes, and the practice has since grown into a full-fledged private hospitality industry. Many Cubans have secured capital from relatives abroad and even foreign investors to transform their modest homes into boutique hotels.

The people of Cuba may now face competition but also support, as they stand to benefit from the huge surge in visitors and the added advantage that Airbnb’s global network promises in connecting them to a whole new world of travelers.

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