Airbnb opens rental listings for U.S. travelers to Cuba

Thu Apr 2, 2015 1:26pm EDT
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By Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Online home-rental marketplace Airbnb Inc now offers properties in Cuba, the company said on Thursday, as it looks to capitalize on an expected travel boom resulting from the normalizing of relations between the United States and the Communist-run nation.

President Barack Obama has loosened some Cold War-era travel restrictions, allowing Americans to visit the Caribbean island for a range of reasons, such as family visits or education.

U.S. lawmakers have proposed further easing to permit purely tourist travel. But pure beach and resort tourism remains illegal for Americans in Cuba under a five-decades-old trade embargo.

Airbnb said on Thursday that after Obama announced the changes, it saw a 70 percent spike in U.S. searches for rentals in Cuba. In response, it has added more than 1,000 listings on the island.

Americans booking stays in Cuba on the site will have to assert that they have a license from the U.S. government to travel there.

Airbnb's Cuba services are only open to U.S. travelers, but could expand to include people from other countries, the company said.

"They made us this proposal a few days ago and we're delighted to accept what they offered us," said Reinier Torres, who manages a Havana home on Airbnb's service. "It's a great opportunity for us to attract American tourism ... though we haven't seen any practical results yet."

The National Foreign Trade Council, a lobbying group that pushes for open international trade, said Airbnb's expansion would help meet "soaring demand" for lodging in Cuba.   Continued...

Tourists ride a convertible car on Havana's seafront boulevard El Malecon at sunset March 13, 2012.  REUTERS/Desmond Boylan