For over 50 years, Cuba has been off-limits for most Americans. But thanks to President Obama’s recent restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, travel and tourism operators like Airbnb, an online marketplace for renting homes around the world, has jumped at the opportunity to offer trips to the Caribbean island nation—just 90 miles off the southern tip of Florida. Although the majority of Cubans have no private Internet connection or credit cards, Airbnb launched in Cuba with over 1,000 listings.
So with Cuba’s economy still dependent on cash, how did Airnbnb tackle the no Internet connection or credit card challenge?
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Molly Turner, Airbnb’s global head of civic partnerships said, “Given that few Cubans have access to the Internet in their homes, many casas particulares (Spanish for bed and breakfast or private house) use middle-men with Internet access to communicate with future guests. “Like an Internet cafe for hosting.”
“It wasn’t about doing something new,” says Jordi Torres Mallol, Airbnb’s general manager for Latin America. “It was about plugging into something existing.” Airbnb met with the Cuban government, and connected with tourism locals, who were already managing properties through independent websites.”
Beyond tapping into an existing network of middle-men, Airbnb, which operates in more than 190 countries, believes “they’re building on the rich Cuban tradition of home sharing.” According to Airbnb, “we’re uniquely positioned to help Cubans reap the rewards of economic growth while preserving their unique culture. When Airbnb guests stay in local neighborhoods, they bring business to surrounding entrepreneurs—whether they be hosts, artists, or even ice cream shop owners.”
Are you ready to plan your next vacation in Cuba? If so, before you click over to Airbnb to book a casas particulares, please note, direct tourism to Cuba is only available to U.S. travelers visiting under one of 12 U.S. government approved categories of legal travel, such as professional research, religious or journalistic activities.
Watch the video below for the inside-scoop of what you can expect.