Airbnb brings rental revo­lu­tion to Cuba

Firm has gained more than 1,000 list­ings since U.S. eased trade re­stric­tions in Jan­uary.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Sa­man­tha Ma­sunaga sa­man­tha.ma­sunaga@la­times.com

Trav­el­ers vis­it­ing Cuba can now find a place to stay through Airbnb in what ex­perts say is the most sig­nif­i­cant U.S. com­pany ex­pan­sion into the is­land na­tion since trade and travel re­stric­tions were eased in Jan­uary.

The San Fran­cisco short­term rental list­ing com­pany said Thurs­day that it has more than 1,000 list­ings from Cuban hosts.

Forty per­cent of the list­ings are for the cap­i­tal city of Ha­vana, and sev­eral other cities also list op­tions, Airbnb said in a state­ment.

List­ings are limited to li­censed U.S. trav­el­ers who can prove that they are vis­it­ing Cuba un­der one of the 12 cat­e­gories per­mit­ted by the U.S. Trea­sury’s Of­fice of For­eign As­sets Con­trol.

The con­cept of host­ing guests in pri­vate homes is al­ready an ac­cepted part of Cuba’s cul­ture. Casas par­tic­u­lares , a net­work of home stays run by pri­vate en­trepreneurs, have been in ex­is­tence since the 1990s, said Wil­liam LeoGrande, a pro­fes­sor at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity who spe­cial­izes in U.S. for­eign pol­icy to Latin Amer­ica.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to live on your regular state sec­tor salary,” he said. “Get­ting ac­cess to hard cur­rency in some fash­ion is re­ally im­por­tant for peo­ple’s stan­dard of living.”

“Airbnb go­ing in there now and cre­at­ing list­ings will rev­o­lu­tion­ize this sec­tor of the Cuban econ­omy,” LeoGrande said.

But the eco­nomic ef­fect will be limited. Hous­ing con­di­tions in Cuba are par­tic­u­larly bad and con­struc­tion ma­te­rial dif­fi­cult to come by, mean­ing only more af­flu­ent peo­ple will be able to list their homes with Airbnb, said Se­bas­tian A. Ar­cos, as­so­ciate direc­tor of the Cuban Re­search In­sti­tute at Florida In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity.

Slow and ex­pen­sive In­ter­net ac­cess in the coun­try could also limit hosts’ abil­ity to connect with po­ten­tial cus­tomers, LeoGrande said.

In­ter­net ac­cess at tourist ho­tels can cost $4 a minute, and newly opened gov­ern­ment In­ter­net cafes of­fer an only slightly cheaper rate of $2 a minute, he said.

Other com­pa­nies have al­ready started to make in­roads in Cuba, in­clud­ing MasterCard, but Ar­cos said Airbnb could be dif­fer­ent.

All com­pa­nies at­tempt­ing to in­vest in Cuba have to go through the Cuban gov­ern­ment, and th­ese part­ner­ships are not open for pri­vate cit­i­zens, he said.

“This is one of the few ex­am­ples where I can see most of this in­ter­ac­tion of this ex­pan­sion into the Cuban mar­ket ben­e­fit­ing more of the pri­vate sec­tor than the state,” Ar­cos said.

Adal­berto Roque AFP/Getty Images

A TOURIST takes pho­tos in Ha­vana in De­cem­ber. Airbnb’s move into Cuba may be the most sig­nif­i­cant by a U.S. firm since trade re­stric­tions were eased.

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