What Airbnb Can Teach the Fortune 500 About Cuba

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (center) with a Havana host couple, in front of a wall festooned with signed notes from their Airbnb guests. Photo: Courtesy of Airbnb

A “measured approach” is key.

Last month, timed to President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, a glut of U.S. companies announced plans to operate in the country.

Tourism industry players like Carnival Cruises,Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, andMarriott International announced their expansions into Cuba. Payments companies PayPal and Stripedid likewise. Google is planning to offer its Fiber internet service on the island, Cisco is opening an IT academy there, Caterpillar signed a deal to distribute equipment in the country, Verizon isoffering roaming cell phone service, and General Electric is working on a deal with the Cuban government.

For now, many of these announcements are symbolic. A trade embargo is still in place. President Obama wants to lift it, but doing so would require Congress to pass a law.

Until that happens, the U.S. government is making exceptions for American businesses that want to move into Cuba. Business is the easiest way to “normalize” relations between the two countries after 56 years of a trade embargo, according to the White House. Progress on political issues such as Cuba’s human rights record has been slower-moving.

There’s one American company that has been doing real business in Cuba for the past year: Airbnb. After the U.S. made American travel to Cuba legal (a special educational travel visa is required), the home-sharing startup made Cuba a priority. In its first year, the company hosted 13,000 travelers in 4,000 homes across 40 cities. Cuba is the fastest-growing market Airbnb has ever entered. (For more on Airbnb’s expansion, read “How Airbnb Pulled Off a Coup in Cuba.”)

Read the full article on Fortune.

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