Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Airbnb Launch in Cuba: Sign of American Tourism 'Gold Rush'?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Airbnb Launch in Cuba: Sign of American Tourism 'Gold Rush'?

Article excerpt

Americans traveling to Cuba won't yet find a Marriott or a Hilton for their stay on the communist island - but starting Thursday they can book a room in Cuban homes through Airbnb.

The announcement by the budget, in-home lodging site is the latest sign of the rush of interest by Americans in the long-off- limits Caribbean island. Prior to President Obama's announcement in December of intentions to normalize relations with Havana, Cuba was mostly a no-go destination for American tourists.

Mr. Obama's opening to Cuba has triggered something of a tourism gold rush among Americans intrigued by the prospect of a peek at Fidel Castro's Cuba.

The entry of Airbnb into the Cuban market meets two of the objectives Obama listed when he outlined his new Cuba policy in December: It promotes contacts between Americans and the Cuban people, and it offers a new avenue to the small entrepreneurs blossoming across Cuba as President Raul Castro cracks the door to private enterprise.

American and Cuban officials meeting since early this year have been unable to resolve differences standing in the way of reopening embassies in each other's capitals - after a five-decade hiatus. But in the meantime the Obama administration has implemented a number of measures easing restrictions on travel and commerce between the two longtime adversaries.

Those measures have opened the Cuban door to enterprises like Airbnb.

The news may not sit well with opponents, particularly in Congress, of renewed relations with the Cuba of Raul - and Fidel - Castro. But trade advocates were quick to welcome Airbnb's announcement as a win-win for Cubans and Americans.

"Airbnb's entry into Cuba is a prime example of the mutual benefit to Cubans and Americans that can come from relaxing US sanctions," says Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington. …

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