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Traveling from the U.S. to Cuba became slightly easier last week with Airbnb’s announcement that it would now list more than 1,000 accommodations options on the island.
Many of the listings are best described as casas particulares, which are traditional private home-stays and the primary kind of lodging available in the country outside of the big-box, faceless resort hotels. Airbnb has described the owners of these homes as “local micro-entrepreneurs.”
But many of the hosts in Cuba end up using middle men who serve as property managers: five of these “hosts” account for more than half, or 689 listings, on the site.
In an official announcement, Airbnb pointed out how some hosts have limited Internet access and others have none, forcing them to work with hosting partners to help them manage their requests and bookings.
This helps explain the disproportionate share of guests, but it’s another middleman inserted into an interaction where Airbnb is already collecting transaction fees.
“Internet connection in Cuba is still difficult but we will try to manage. All this will change some day in the future,” Fatima, an Airbnb host with 148 listings, told Skift.
She received her first booking the morning of Airbnb’s announcement, which she described as “promising.”
Felix Arguelles, a Cuban and the CEO of a Canadian search engine optimization company, says this has been happening since 1997. “These micro-entrepreneurs are acting as online booking managers to help bring in clients through the Internet for Cuban hosts,” he says.
“Most owners are not even Internet savvy. That’s why it iss only natural that they would rely on the expertise and skills of the micro-entrepreneurs.”
Management From Abroad
Jorge, the host with 172 properties, is living abroad in Switzerland, according to his Airbnb profile. He’s not the only Cuban host that’s running the listings from afar.
Roy is the owner of four “aparthotels” located in one of Cuba’s central districts. He, however, is based in Moscow and works online from there while staff in Cuba handle the properties.
“Airbnb is one of the sites I’m signed up on,” he wrote to Skift.
The other hosts would not comment on their hosting plans or experience.
The model used in Cuba could be replicated in other emerging markets where Internet access and familiarity with products like Airbnb is less common. An Airbnb spokeswoman persists that each market is unique.