words mary von aue | images ed yourdan
Canadians love to travel to Cuba, and they’ve been rubbing it in American’s faces for years. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations for Canadians, presumably because it’s the destination they didn’t have to share with Americans. “Finally! An island where no one will confuse us with those obnoxious Americans! But let’s slather our travel gear in maple leafs just in case.”
Well now that’s changing and Airbnb is about to make up for lost time. They announced last week that it would now list more than 1,000 accommodations on the island, and in a highly ironic snub, Canadians will not be able to use the service. WHAT NOW LEAFS?!
It didn’t take long after the declaration of détente between US and Cuba for Silicon Valley to make its way to Cuba. As of Thursday, Americans are able to book accommodation in Cuba in what has become the largest US business expansion in Cuba since dialogue reopened in 2014.
Restrictions under the US embargo still exist, however, and thus the company’s Cuba listings will only be available to US travellers. Canadians will have to stick to the sterility of a luxury hotel, completely isolated from local Havana, which has been the standard until now.
While I fully encourage Americans to use the Airbnb listings and tag all of their Canadian friends in the pictures that they post on social media, let’s not be too hasty in assuming that locally run accommodations bring the traveler one step closer to that elusive sense of “authenticity” that so many desperately crave. True, Airbnb has potential to develop local entrepreneurship among Cubans and give them leverage in the hospitality industry, but more than half of the listings- 689 to be exact- belong to five people.
Airbnb attributes this to the limited internet access on the island, forcing many Cubans to work with hosting partners in managing bookings. This might explain the mini-monopolies already appearing in Cuban listings, but as Skift points out, it’s another middleman inserted into a transaction where Airbnb is already collecting fees.
Alas, that authentic Cuban experience will not be felt without highly capitalistic interactions, but at least there won’t be any obnoxious Canadians, right?