Most of Airbnb’s listings in Cuba came from agencies that have spent years connecting foreign travelers to hosts without internet access.

By Spencer Peterson
July 10, 2015
Cuba, Cityscape
Credit: Frederic Lagrange

Cuba’s extensive network of casas particulares made Airbnb’s launch there about plugging into something existing, rather than starting from the ground up. As Kay Kühne, Regional Director for Airbnb in Latin America, explained back in April, “the culture of private homestays is mainstream in Cuba.” Licensed by a program started in the ‘90s by the Cuban government, these guesthouses are largely operated by homeowners without internet access, who rely on travel agents like Omar Fonsenca to post their listings online and coordinate bookings with foreigners.

By launch, Airbnb had linked up to eight people like Fonsenca, who have provided 70 to 80 percent of the 1,200 listings that Airbnb has added in Cuba, according to Fast Company. These managers reached out to their networks of hosts--Fonsenca has a portfolio of nearly 1,000--to convince them to join Airbnb, and allay concerns they had about not being paid on the spot, in cash, as they were used to. "I’d call and say that the most important travel agency in the world is coming to Cuba," Fonsenca tells the magazine.

Fonsenca added about 100 of his listings to the site by launch, and he’s since added about 200 more. He delivers payments to clients himself, in cash, after taking out the commission he makes for each booking. In April, Airbnb’s first month of operating in Cuba, he booked a total of six reservations through the site. For July, he booked around 50.