Cuba now home to Airbnb, with possible Uber-like taxi service on the way

Posted: 08-Apr-15 10:17

American holiday home rental company Airbnb has recently announced it will have over 1,000 properties available for American customers to book. Meanwhile, a local taxi service hopes to rival one of the most popular taxi services - and with both, the infrastructure could grow to support them both.

Cuba now home to Airbnb, with possible Uber-like taxi service on the way

Online holiday home rental site Airbnb is now offering B&Bs in Cuba as of the beginning of April. It is looking to capitalise on the recent normalising or relations between the US and Cuba, which means that although pure tourist travel is still illegal, it's possible for Americans to visit Cuba for any of a dozen officially sanctioned reasons.

Since then, Airbnb have reported a 70% increase in searches for Cuban "casas particulares" - and has added more than 1,000 listings on the island, available only in the US at present. American bookings will have to show a licence from from the US government to travel there.

It's possible that Airbnb's Cuba services will expand to other countries, since Canadians, British and Italian tourists have been the cornerstone of the non-American tourist industry.

Although the response from the company to demand has been quick, the effects have not yet been felt on the ground. A manager of a Havana home is quoted as saying that:

"[Airbnb] made us this proposal a few days ago and we're delighted to accept what they offered us... It's a great opportunity for us to attract American tourism ... though we haven't seen any practical results yet."

It's a bonus for US companies which offer educational and cultural Cuban tours. The National Foreign Trade Council (a lobbying group advocating open international trade), said Airbnb's expansion would help meet "soaring demand" for lodging in Cuba. Indeed, tour operators and charter flight companies operating from Florida are reporting increased business – around 175,000 customers in the first quarter of 2015.

Airbnb are filling a highly-prized gap. In the state-run hotel sector, there's a reported lack of capacity to handle the projected increase in tourist. The private sector is better prepared, with new hotels such as Grand Memories being launched in Havana and Varadero. As for private home and room rentals, the prices are much keener at around the UD $30-40 mark, rather than up to $200 in hotels.

With added flights and business services starting to tentatively take root in the island to improve its infrastructure, the internet is following. State-run mobile provider ETECSA is looking into providing data packages, which will be highly advantageous for new taxi organisers YoTeLlevo ("I will take you there" in English).

The Uber-like service aims to build a network of local "almendrones" (old american car taxi) drivers, currently contactable by email, that foreign tourists customers can book for rides. Athough just contacting the drivers is patchy, as only a few will have access to the internet to even have an email address, the anonymous CEO of the ambitious startup hopes that the infrastructure will support the company's goals to be Cuba's answer to Uber.


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