It’s still technically illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba as tourists. But that hasn’t stopped US companies from snatching up hotels they can market to visiting Americans.
Starwood Resorts announced over the weekend that it will refurbish and manage two hotels in the Cuban capital, Havana. And Airbnb, which last year claimed the right to represent all private residences on the island, just announced it will open up all its listings beginning April 2.
"It was viewed as a new idea and here it was something that was already familiar to the culture. There were tens of thousands of people that were already sharing their homes and so we felt like it wasn't that big of a risk. And all we had to do was make sure the community embraced Airbnb," Airbnb founder Brian Chesky told CBS.
The business deals coincide with President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, the first by a sitting president in 88 years. They represent a coordinated effort by the administration to make travel to Cuba as smooth as possible, despite the congressional embargo that includes a tourism ban.
Congress is not likely to lift the ban anytime soon, given the continuing political potency of the issue especially among Republicans. But the Obama administration hopes to poke enough holes in the restrictions to make the embargo all but meaningless.
In addition to hotel deals, the Obama administration has authorized commercial flights to Cuba to resume in the fall, making the cost of traveling to the island significantly cheaper. And just last week, Obama further broadened the categories under which Americans can lawfully travel there.