Travelers from all over the world will soon be able to book vacation rooms and houses in Cuba through Airbnb, reports the AP, after the U.S. Treasury Department this weekend authorized the company to expand its operations there. Airbnb has been connecting tourists from the U.S. only to Cuban hosts for just shy of a year under a limited exception to the U.S. trade embargo.
The San Francisco-based Airbnb was the first major U.S. company to enter Cuba after the two countries began normalizing relations in December 2014. Since then, Cuba has become Airbnb’s fastest-growing market, with about 4,000 listings added over the last year.
That rapid expansion was made possible in part thanks to Cuba’s casas particulares, whose owners have welcomed visitors for inexpensive stays in family homes for two decades. As Nancy Scola reported for Next City last year, Fidel Castro created a regulatory framework for this network of houses in the late 1990s, “to allow citizens to tap the value in one of the few assets they might still have, their homes.” Airbnb is not the first company to try to capitalize on the system, but so far, it’s been the most successful.
Scola also noted that Airbnb could help the country scale up its tourism industry with little upfront investment, allowing the country and its residents to take in visitor dollars more quickly. In the past year, 13,000 guests stayed in Cuban Airbnbs; visitors to the island surged nearly 20 percent, according to the AP.
The Treasury authorization was announced on the morning of Obama’s arrival in Cuba for a historic three-day trip.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.