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Marriott and Starwood want to join Airbnb and start doing business in Cuba.
As reported today in The Wall Street Journal, the two hotel companies—which are expected to become one very big company by June—have applied to the appropriate government entities in Cuba and the U.S. to start operating businesses in Cuba — and could close on deals before President Obama visits the island March 20.
“We are optimistic that we are going to get a green light soon from the U.S. government to have hotels under the Marriott flag in Cuba,” Thomas Marder, a Marriott spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal.
“Starwood has applied for authorization from the U.S. Treasury Department to operate hotels in Cuba,” Starwood spokeswoman Carrie Bloom tells Skift. “We see many opportunities for the expansion of our brands into Cuba at this inflection point, and look forward to building long-term relationships and welcoming travelers into our hotels in this dynamic market.”
Current focus on U.S.-Cuba relations is high. President Obama is planning to travel to Cuba from March 20 to 22. When he arrives in Havana, he’ll be joined by Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, who also serves as vice chair of the President’s Export Council.
Since Obama announced in December 2014 that the U.S. would restore its ties with Cuba after a more than 50-year Cold War, a number of U.S.-based companies have applied to do business in the Caribbean country.
While Airbnb was successful in beginning its operations in April 2015, other tourism companies are still waiting for approvals to clear the way for them to begin doing business. Carnival Corp. and Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as a number of other U.S.-base cruise lines have clearance from U.S. officials to call in Cuba, but haven’t received approval yet from Cuban officials.
Earlier this month, at least eight U.S. airline carriers applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation outlining what routes they would like to fly to Cuba. Both American Airlines and JetBlue Airways currently operate charter flights from the U.S. to Cuba.
Obama administration watchers believe that the President will likely announce new policies that will loosen current trade and travel embargoes to allow individual licenses for people-to-people travel. U.S. senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, is also urging the Obama administration to ease restrictions on investment in Cuba so American hotels can operate in the island nation.
If individual licenses for people-to-people travel are allowed, solo U.S. travelers could legally travel to Cuba simply by interacting with Cubans our touring a museum during their visit, The Wall Street Journal noted. The deals related to Starwood and Marriott are expected to be announced at or around the same time.