Four months after Airbnb opened for business in Cuba, it's becoming clear what kind of impact the uptick in American tourism may have on the local economy. The Associated Press reports that between January and May alone, there were 36 percent more American tourists visiting the country compared to the same time the last year.
Cubans have been listing places to stay on the holiday rental site since April, offering the new wave of American visitors everything from $1,180 penthouses to $10 shared rooms in hostels. The Economist points out that there are listings that charge almost ten times the average Cubans' monthly income of around $25. Even the average listing price, $45 per night, is well above the average monthly income. So either above-average earners are mostly capitalizing on Airbnb, or average Cubans on the site are making a killing compared to their regular salaries.
Here's that penthouse, in the heart of Havana, with four bedrooms and a roof top pool, for $1,180 per night:
Apartment in Havana, Cuba. Luxury Penthouse South Atlantic Standing over the Malecon this is without doubt one of the finest penthouse accommodations in Havana. The furniture, the colors, the ambiance, the 24 hours customized service; everything has been thoroughly analyze… View all listings in Havana
And you'd get something like this for the Cuba-wide average price of $45 per night:
Bed & Breakfast in La Habana, Cuba. Very comfortable room with private bathroom and air conditioning, TV, minibar, safe. They have a beautiful garden and patio and all the conditions for a prefect stay. Even a pool! House with a beautifully decorated colonial architecture, beautifu… View all listings in La Habana
Or you could try a shared room in a hostel, for $10 per night:
Apartment in La Habana, Cuba. Cubabackpackers tiene una situación inmejorable, muy cerca del Vedado, El Malecón, la Plaza de la Revolución y el famoso Estadio Latinoamericano. Está situado en una edificio con excelentes vista de la esta maravillosa ciudad. View all listings in La Habana
There are around 2,000 listings on offer at the moment. As travel news site Skift reported, even early on when there were just about 1,000 on the site, about half of the listings were actually controlled by five or six individuals.
This is partly because only a very small percentage—around five percent—of Cubans have access to the internet. Obviously, renting out an Airbnb relies heavily on the internet.
Aside from the access issue though, Skift reports that Cubans in Miami or other places could also be renting out accommodation from a distance. As CityLab tells us, Cuban casas particulares—local Bed and Breakfast arrangements—have been around for years and fit especially well with the Airbnb model.
"Because we’re building on the rich Cuban tradition of home sharing, we’re uniquely positioned to help Cubans reap the rewards of economic growth while preserving their unique culture," a post on Airbnb's official blog says.
Locals with casas particulares might be getting around the internet restrictions by going through overseas-based agencies that handle the bookings through the website for them. One "host," Point 2 Cuba, appears to be based in Canada. "AirBNB's host was Point to Cuba, but they then represented Frank the local owner," one guest wrote in their site review for the "host."
Travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba are set to ease up after the U.S. government decided late last year to reestablish diplomatic relations with the country for the first time since 1961. Though there are still some restrictions on travel–Americans are required to be traveling for purposes other than tourism–it seems unlikely that Cuban officials and locals will want to discourage tourism dollars by checking up on visitors, as NPR points out.
With airlines offering increasing options for direct flights between U.S. cities and Havana, the number of American tourists in Cuba will almost certainly rise. And there have been moves by the Cuban government to expand internet access somewhat on the island, which could mean less wealthy people having a better chance to take advantage of the tourist flood gates opening.