Starting today, Airbnb will begin offering properties for rent in Cuba, which has seen an upsurge in interested visitors ever since the U.S. and Cuba signed a historic agreement to restore diplomatic ties and ease sanctions last December. Airbnb is one of the first U.S. companies to expand to Cuba, and the move comes after the U.S. decided to lift most travel restrictions to the Caribbean island in late January (although inconveniently, tourism is still not permitted). The roughly 1,000 rentals now on offer include colonial-era villas, modest rooms with antique furniture, and brightly painted student apartments.
"The idea here is to support growth in travel that isn't disruptive, that actually celebrates and preserves Cuba as a distinct destination," Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk told Bloomberg, which broke the story of the expansion.
Cuba is a largely cash-based society, and only about 4% of homes have internet access. The story of how Airbnb bypassed those challenges to launch there is pretty fascinating. According to Bloomberg, "Airbnb had to find local intermediaries to help manage listings and connect hosts with customers."
In most of the 190 countries where Airbnb has listings, payments are made electronically and then transferred to the host's bank account after the company takes its cut. In this case, however, Airbnb had to contract an agency that is licensed to send cash to Cubans.
The good news is, even though tourism is still banned, curious travelers can go "volunteer" in some of those sweet Airbnb villas and apartments in Havana: