As the Trump administration considers how to go about “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” and now closing up the US embassy due to mysterious “sonic attacks,” Airbnb is hoping that it doesn’t scare off the booming business from U.S. tourists.
Since the United States eased travel restrictions, the online-lodging company Airbnb, has been killing it on the island. In a recent report, Airbnb touts that in just two years, more than 560,000 guest arrivals in Cuban homes have occurred. In 2017 alone, there has been an average of 70,000 guest arrivals per month in 22,000 listings across 70 different Cuban cities.
The report states, “More guests have stayed in Cuba in the last year than in the entire U.S. in the first year of Airbnb.”
The growing number of visitors have the hotels on the island at capacity, therefore opening the door for Airbnb. Though the new policy put forward by the Trump administration doesn’t keep Airbnb from doing business on the island, it does screw with how people travel to the island.
Cuba Travel Group, owned by Carlos Valderrama, has reportedly booked a third fewer trips this year than last because of the Trump administration’s announcement of the comming restrictions. On top of that, the latest considerations of closing up the U.S. embassy on the island due to the “sonic attacks” deployed by who knows who will surely create some travel flow disruptions.
That said, twelve percent of all Americans that visit the island use Airbnb for their lodging. With Airbnb making a mere three percent from each reservation in addition to the 6 to 12 percent in service fees, it’s safe to say Airbnb is not wanting business to be interrupted.
It’s not one-sided
Though the digital platform is raking in the cheddar, so are the Cuban hosts. Since 2015, more than $40 million has been paid out to Cuban people. The average amount paid to a Cuban host is around $164 per booking. When the average monthly salary in Cuba is around $30, this is no chump-change. The extra $2,700 average annual payout to Cuban hosts is not just game-changing, it’s life-changing.
The extra cheddar is also going toward renovations of the home and stimulating complementary goods and services as well such as restaurants and other forms of entertainment.
You know it’s rad when an economics professor at the University of Havana rents out rooms in her house and tutors family and friends on how to create their profiles and manage their bookings.
How to win friends and influence social and economic liberalization
Similar to how Dale Carnegie illustrates in his ([highly recommended)] book How to Win Friends and Influence People, companies such as Airbnb are using these “soft power” techniques to enact and speed up some real social and economic liberalization of the Cuban people.
With the number of visitors, from both the U.S. and the rest of the world, projected to rise from 3 million to 4.75 million by 2024, the social, technological, and economic development that comes with that type of growth will inevitably expose the Cuban and the regime to a culture where people can prosper when they have power over their economic decisions.
Cuba has one of the world’s worst internet connectivity. Cuba recently opened 35 public Wi-Fi hotspots and has increased access at universities and a few state-run cybercafés. Private access to Wi-Fi is only available to certain folks who are higher up in the political party. Even with the increased access, about 5 to 31 percent of Cubans have access to the internet —; slow and limited internet. With a dial-up connection of 54 kilobits per second, your “first-world problems” would switch into high gear immediately. Just to compare, most consumer grade internet connections in the U.S. have download speeds at around 14,000 kilobits per second.
Despite the connectivity issues, Airbnb, along with other American tech companies, is attempting to engage the potential 11 million customers off the coast of Florida. Google plans to expand the technological infrastructure but must continue in negotiations with the Cuban government. PayPal and Stripe are both payment companies that facilitate the transfer of money between people and ensure that the cheddar gets into the hands of those providing the goods and services, and not line the pockets of the government officials.
Though the light at the end of the tunnel is still quite far, this type of engagement is a sure-fire way of creating and empowering a middle class that can dictate some positive change for everyone on the island.
It won’t happen overnight
As the Trump administration mulls over how to go overturn the headway the previous administration did, it’s important to consider that the deal isn’t one-sided, it just takes a while. The type of change Cuba needs will not happen overnight. But it won’t happen at all if they get in the way of the tech companies that are trying hard to navigate the tricky political atmosphere in Cuba and to lifting the quality of life of its people.