BERLIN — If you’re planning to visit Cuba in the near future and you want to use Airbnb, you’ll quickly realise there’s a bizarre loophole you have to jump through in order to make your booking.
When requesting to book an Airbnb in Cuba, you must specify your “purpose of travel” and confirm that you “satisfy criteria for a general licence for travel to Cuba”.
This “licence” was established for Americans travelling to Cuba but non-US citizens also have to say that they satisfy the requirements if they want to use Airbnb in Cuba. You’ll be presented with a drop down menu of 12 “activities” that your licence can fall under, with activities including “Official Government Business”, “Support for the Cuban people”, and “Religious”.
I experienced this first hand earlier this year when I was trying to book some Airbnbs in Cuba for a trip that I just returned from. The experience left me feeling confused and unsure about whether I could legally use Airbnb in Cuba.
A PR spokesperson failed to clear up the matter for me in February so I asked Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s cofounder, during a Q&A session in Berlin last month.
It’s “a little complicated,” Blecharczyk replied. “A little over two years ago, Obama took executive action to loosen the restrictions. But he didn’t have the power to completely kill them. So he basically loosened them as much as possible.
“So what can you do do today? Americans can go down there and about a year ago now we got special permission from the Department of Treasury that regulates this stuff, to allow foreigners to come down to Cuba as well. Now legally we’re still required to ask that question.
“According to the restrictions, you’re supposed to only go down there if it’s for one of 12 reasons,” he said. “Of which one is ‘helping the people’. If you’re staying at someone’s home, that’s helping the people.”
The US Treasury states that “support for the Cuban people” includes “activities of recognised human rights organisations; independent organisations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organisations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.”
Blecharczyk added: “Cuba has been ridiculously successful for us. We have about 15,000 homes down there. We’ve seen great interest from Americans and from folks all around the world and it is doing remarkable things for the people.”
Cuba’s relationship with US companies has been a complicated one ever since revolutionary leader Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 but US tech companies like Airbnb and Google are starting to make some inroads.