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Airbnb Steps Into Cuba Politics – Because It's Doing Well In Cuba Business

Lisette Poole
Havana resident Marta Vitorte in one of the apartments she owns and rents to visitors on Airbnb.

In Miami-Dade County, Airbnb has become a big business and political controversy. But across the Florida Straits in Cuba, there are few complaints about the online lodging service.

In fact, Airbnb is urging the Trump Administration not to roll back normalized relations with Cuba. And it’s stepping into Cuba politics because it’s doing so well in Cuba business. This week Airbnb reports that Cubans have netted $40 million the past two years by using the online service to rent their homes and rooms to short-term visitors.

That’s not chump change on a communist island where most people earn less than $30 a month. Since Airbnb entered the Cuban market in April 2015, more than a tenth of U.S. visitors to Cuba now use its listings to book lodgings there.

Airbnb collects about 10 percent of each transaction – and the Cuban government gets its cut as well. But the company asserts in a letter addressed to the White House the extra income for Cubans has become “an economic lifeline.”

Whether or not that’s true, property rental is now a key part of Cuba’s fledgling private sector. In fact, short-term room rentals now account for a quarter of available tourist beds in Cuba.

Advocates say that new entrepreneurship is a big reason President Trump should leave normalized U.S.-Cuba relations intact. Trump is expected to announce his decision on the issue this month.