Airbnb just opened for business in a surprising new country
A “Unicorn” has been spotted in Cuba.
Airbnb, #4 on Fortune‘s “unicorn” list of tech startups worth more than $1 billion, is one of the first U.S. companies to announce plans to open operations in Cuba. The move comes less than four months after the U.S. and Cuba shocked the world by unveiling plans to repair a relationship between the two countries that had been strained for over 50 years.
Starting today, the room-booking startup will list some 1,000 Cuban properties for American users on its site, and around half of them will be in the capital Havana.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is a service that connects travelers to homeowners, giving guests access to private homes in a service that has now reached over 34,000 cities and more than 190 countries worldwide.
“For the first time in decades, licensed American travelers will have the chance to experience authentic Cuban hospitality at homes across the island,” Airbnb said in a blog post.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced it was easing restrictions on travel to Cuba. For the past 60 years, Americans had few legal ways to travel to the island as a result of an embargo enacted in the 1960s. The embargo was initially a response to the communist government of Fidel Castro, an ally of the Soviet Union. But Americans can now visit Cuba without a specific license if their reason for travel falls under 12 categories, including family visits, professional research or meetings, or humanitarian efforts.
Still, the Airbnb launch in Cuba, with rooms listing for as low as $30 a night for a visit next month, comes with some hiccups. As Bloomberg reported, only 4% of Cuban homes have Internet access of any kind. Airbnb is a technology company and it is important for homeowners and travelers looking to rent private spaces to be able to communicate online when booking a temporary residency at a private home.
Airbnb told Bloomberg that it had to find local intermediaries to help manage listings and connect hosts with customers. Hosts wanted cash, but Airbnb’s model depends on the website taking a 3% cut and transferring the rest of a payment to a host’s bank account. Ultimately, Airbnb had to contract a license money remitter, Florida-based VaCuba, to make payments on its behalf.