Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

With hotel rooms in short supply in Cuba, especially in Havana, Airbnb has made steady inroads since it entered the Cuban market in 2015. Airbnb hosts have welcomed 560,000 guests in the past two years; 2017 year to date arrivals top 70,000 guests per month in 22,000 Airbnb listings in 70 Cuban cities and towns.

More than 40% of that inventory is in Havana, a market that is almost always at full occupancy, according to Maria Rodriguez, Airbnb's head of global consumer communications.

And last fall Airbnb moved beyond accommodations with the launch of its tours and activities platform, called Trips, that combines where travelers stay, what they do and who they meet.

Trips launched with 500 Experiences in 12 cities worldwide, including Havana. (As of mid-May, Trips was in 28 cities with more set to launch this year, although Havana for now is the only Caribbean city on the Experiences list.)

Examples include the Havana on Foot tour, organized by a team of friends working as economics professors at the university. The four-hour tour, priced at $79 person, promises to "explore in a way that's anything but mundane and let travelers experience firsthand the typical daily journey of a Habenero," according to one of the hosts. There are 14 tour dates through August.

The Cuban Paladar Insider tour features a lunch and talks with the owner of a paladar -- a privately-run restaurant -- about the evolution of the city's culinary culture and the pitfalls and joys of self-employment. This is priced at $75 and runs frequently through August.

Other Experiences cover sports, the arts, music, cigars, cars, fashion, dance, Havana's literary scene, coffee and countryside life.

Visitors can play street basketball in Havana's courtyards and side streets, discover the city's hip-hop scene, take a sketch class in a Havana gallery or have the mystery of Santeria demystified through conversations with a religious scholar.

Travelers access and book the tours through Airbnb's mobile app. Airbnb pays no commission on its home stays or Trips, but agents may want to take note of its offerings should the circumstances change. The Experiences are open to all travelers, regardless of where they put their heads at night, so if an agent has booked a client in a traditional hotel, the client could book him or herself an Experience if the agent makes the client aware of the option.

"Havana is one of the Trips cities with the highest occupancy, where almost all the 'seats' to these Experiences are sold out," Rodriguez said.

At the time of the Trips rollout last fall, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said that "up until now Airbnb has been about homes. We want to make travel magical again by putting people back at the heart of every trip. Having transformed where people stay when they travel through people-powered hospitality, Airbnb is taking this same approach to the rest of the trip and, in doing so, providing a way for people to make money from their passions and interests."

Travelers can rate their Experiences, much as they do the home stays. "We are seeing many five-star reviews," Rodriguez said.


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