When Airbnb first announced in 2015 that it would operate in Cuba, it was clear the company had lofty ambitions. CEO Brian Chesky appeared alongside President Obama during his visit to the country last year, where the president heralded the company’s business success, adding that there were now “thousands of potential sellers of a great experience here in Cuba.”
Although Cuba isn’t Airbnb’s largest market, it has become its fastest growing one, with Fortune writing last year that the company “made Cuba a priority, jumping through legal and travel-visa hoops, building software work-arounds for web access, and bringing casas particulares [a type of private rental] owners into the Airbnb fold.”
The company has touted its success on the island. Two weeks ago, it released a report saying $40 million had been paid for rentals over the past two years. An average of 70,000 Airbnb guests were arriving on the island every month, and the report noted the service’s popularity among US visitors specifically. “In 2017 so far, Cuba has been the 9th most popular destination country on Airbnb for US travelers, more than Australia, Germany, the Netherlands or Thailand,” the report said.
The company recently estimated that 12 percent of all American visitors to Cuba stayed in Airbnbs. In a statement to The Verge, Airbnb estimated that 35 percent of Airbnb lodgers in Cuba were traveling from the United States.
Today’s announcement by President Trump that his administration will once again tighten travel restrictions between the US and Cuba poses a setback for the company. The move will curtail the number of Americans traveling to the country, and likely damage many of the “potential sellers” Obama mentioned.
The rules reinstate restrictions on most private travel to the country, with the exception of Cuban Americans, and forbids visitors from doing business with military-controlled institutions. That means, as Sen. Marco Rubio said on Twitter, that Americans will have to find accommodation in privately controlled places, like Airbnbs. But that directive will only be a slight salve if overall travel is drastically reduced.
“Travel from the U.S. to Cuba is an important way to encourage people-to-people diplomacy,” the company said in its statement today. “While we are reviewing what this policy could mean for this type of travel, we appreciate that the policy appears to allow us to continue to support Airbnb hosts in Cuba who have welcomed travelers from around the world.”
The response was a marked changed of tone from the company’s report from earlier this month, which prophesied a sunny outlook and read, “This unprecedented growth shows no signs of slowing down.”
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