Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cuba's got the BnB, but do they have the Air?

The ad reads: "One giant leap for man's kindness" (above).
And: "The doors to 1,000 real Cuban homes are now open to you" (below).

I was awoken this Tuesday morning here in Miami, where I am on vacation, by a call from Andrea Hsu, a producer for NPR's afternoon flagship show "All Things Considered." It turns out she had seen the same full page Airbnb add on Sunday (above) that I had. However, while I saw mine in the Miami Herald, she saw hers in the Washington Post and told me there were similar ones in The New York Times and other U.S. newspapers over the weekend.

So I went to the WLRN studios in Downtown Miami to chat with Audie Cornish (really gotta love that name!) about what Airbnb's entry into Cuba means and how it will work given that making cashless payments via credit cards to Cuban homeowners in Cuba is not yet possible. Moreover, as the title to this post indicates, Cuba's got the BnB, but the "Air," not so much! In other words, a reservation system based on access to the Internet is less than ideal in a country where somewhere between 5-15% of the population has web access and very few of those have it from home.

Still, I told Audie that this development was not only a brilliant business move by Airbnb (Americans are eager to explore Cuba and Internet access there can only get better!) but also one of the few areas where there's an unequivocal win-win-win-win for the other parties involved.

That is, as I Tweeted earlier today:

(1) Cubans: Airbnb has developed a "workaround" to get cash payments sent to Cuban homeowners via a veteran Miami-based money transfer service;

(2) Americans: American travelers will have greater ability to meet real Cuban people in a more relaxed, authentic environment by staying with them in their own homes (and save some $);

(3) The US Gov: The arrangement is directly in line with the new Obama policy of greater citizen empowerment and people-to-people contacts (not to mention fully legal under new regulations published a few weeks ago); and

(4) The Cuban Gov: The past few months have shown that there are not enough hotel rooms on the island to handle the mad rush of arriving Yanks! (even if Cuba has been building them for more than 20 years with the help of many foreign partners) - thus making these entrepreneurs a key part of Cuba's economic opening and one whose growing wealth the government will have an incentive to tolerate.

If you've made it all the way to the end of this post, you deserve a prize. So, I'm providing a link to a paper I wrote in 2002 entitled, "Condemned to Informality: Cuba's Experiments with Self-Employment (The Case of the Bed and Breakfasts)," Cuban Studies 33, pp. 1-29.

Also, as a bit a lagniappe, here's a link to a related article I published in 2008 about Cuba's famed private home-based restaurants, aka, paladares. It is entitled, "Vale Todo: In Cuba’s Paladares, Everything is Prohibited but Anything Goes."

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