Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or
family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered
by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers
who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their
rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform
opened its services in Cuba.
“There is nothing like Airbnb,” said Jorge Ignacio Guillén, a student of
economics who rents out a house in the town of Soroa, Artemisa.
Surrounded by lush vegetation, orchids and birds native to the area, the
accommodation is described as “rustic” and in direct contact with nature.
The young man helps his family manage the home’s profile on the
California website specializing in vacation rentals. Guillén signed up a
year ago and his family’s house is now is one of the more than 4,000
rental options that Airbnb claims exist on the island.
Airbnb listings in Cuba range from exclusive mansions with pool that can
cost up to $1,000 a night depending on the number of rooms, to single
rooms with a bed or bunk for about 10 dollars
The San Francisco-based company, created nine years ago, expanded its
services to Cuba in April 2015, just months after the announcement of
the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.
The offerings on the island range from the most luxurious to the
simplest. From exclusive mansions with pools that can cost up to $1,000
a night depending on the number of rooms, to single rooms with a bed or
bunk for about 10 dollars*. Hot running water, coffee upon awakening or
a minibar are some of the options to choose from.
Of the more than 535,000 self-employed workers in the country at the end
of 2016, at least 34,000 dedicate themselves to renting homes, rooms and
spaces. An unknown number offer a house or a room “under the table,”
without a state license and without paying taxes.
On the island, entrepreneurs need to obtain a rental license, in
accordance with the regulations on self-employment implemented in the
mid-1990s. Owners of registered rentals must pay license fees and taxes
deducted from personal income. These vary depending on the location of
the property, the square footage allocated to the rental, and the
Airbnb registration is simple. The first step is to fill out a detailed
form about the accommodation you are offering and the guests you wish to
host. Within a few minutes you will receive an email welcoming you to
the platform. The last step is to attract customers, who will rate the
accommodation through the company’s website.
The Guillén family has wanted to do everything legally to be able to
take advantage of the growth in tourism. Last year, the number of
foreign visitors reached 4 million, 6% more than the 3.7 million
visitors initially forecast, according to the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).
Most of the rooms offered on Airbnb are located in Havana, but other
destinations such as Trinidad, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas
are gaining prominence. The Cuban market stands out as the fastest
growing in the history of the company.
Guillén learned about the service through a friend outside the island
and as soon as he had the opportunity to connect to the internet he
posted his advertisement. “From then to now business improved a great
deal and we are finding a lot more customers,” he tells 14ymedio. Also,
the new customers “are much better, more serious and more respectful,”
and “they pay more,” he summarizes.
The family is offering “a simple country house,” and puts its guests in
touch with a guide service and horseback riding. After the reservation,
all the information is shared via email, the most fragile part of the
operation due to the low connectivity to the internet still experienced
Rebeca Monzó, a craftswoman and blogger who has a room for rent on
Airbnb, complains of the difficulties involved in managing the service
without internet access. Although an email account on the government
Nauta service has alleviated the problem, responding immediately when
she receives a reservation message is complicated.
Monzó, who has made clear her preference for “stable, professional and
retired couples,” will receive her first customer in February, “a
Mexican filmmaker who is coming with his wife.” For this coming March
she already has another confirmed reservation.
The increase in the number of days of occupation per year is one of the
advantages for local entrepreneurs who have joined Airbnb. Guillen
confesses that although he still has “much to learn about the management
of the platform,” he does manage, through it, to “maintain a good number
After the difficulties of eight years of construction to get their
property ready in Soroa, a beautiful natural area, the young man’s
family is reaping the fruits of their labors. However, they recognize
that the most difficult thing continues to be “always having on hand the
necessary supplies to meet basic needs,” because “there still is no
wholesale market in the country.”
In Monzó’s Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, “almost everyone who
rents to tourists has signed up for the service. The customer pays from
their own country directly to Airbnb,” and then “they send an Airbnb
representative to the house who brings the money in cash,” she says. It
is the same formula frequently used by Cubans abroad to send remittances
to family on the island.
But for Monzó, the business is far from a source of great profits. “When
I signed up, I wasn’t thinking about being able to buy a yacht. I was
just thinking I’d like to have a well-stocked refrigerator.”
*Translator’s note: Looking at the listings on Airbnb’s site as of
today, single room rental rates (two guests) appear to be concentrated
in the range of about $25-$35 (with many that are more and less than
that). A professional employed by the state in Cuba earns roughly $40 a
month; physicians earn roughly $60 a month.
Source: Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar –
Translating Cuba –