Online travel aggregator Priceline has announced a deal that will allow Americans to book hotel rooms in Cuba, while two hotel management groups are inking deals to manage luxury properties in the formerly off-limits Caribbean island nation.
As Consumerist reports, Priceline, through its subsidiary Booking.com, has just signed a deal that will allow American travelers to book hotel rooms in Cuba. Priceline is the first American travel company to be given that privilege.
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Prior to the Priceline Cuba deal, Americans could only book rooms in Cuba through travel agencies or tour groups. Or, they could use room-sharing service Airbnb, which has been in operation in Cuba since April, 2015.
Officially, Americans can’t go to Cuba without a good reason. Generally, you have to get permission from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, and only for reasons such as cultural exchanges, religious trips, family visits, or sporting events, according to Reuters. And prior to March 17, you had to go to Cuba in groups. That rule has now been relaxed.
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Travelers wanting to book Cuban hotel rooms through Priceline’s subsidiary, Booking.com, will have to verify that they are going for one of the reasons approved by the Treasury Department, though the company does not intend to verify the travelers’ statements. However, the company will keep its records available for five years, and provide that information to the Treasury Department, should the agency ever ask.
Priceline isn’t the only American company getting in on the Cuba travel game. Hotel management group Starwood Hotels has been given approval to manage two luxury Havana hotels, and is awaiting approval on a third. That would make Starwood the first American company to manage a Cuban hotel in over 60 years.
Starwood intends to take over management of Havana’s Hotel Inglaterra, which the company will manage under its Luxury Collections brand, and the Hotel Quinta Avenida, which the company will manage under its Four Points by Sheraton brand. Meanwhile, the company is awaiting approval to manage Havana’s Hotel Santa Isabel, which will also be a Luxury Collections property.
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The company intends to renovate all three hotels before offering rooms to American travelers.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Starwood chief executive Thomas B. Mangas said that his company is proud to be at the forefront of warming relations between the United States and Cuba.
“[Cuba] had huge attraction for U.S. consumers before the embargo started. I think it will have even greater attraction now.”
Americans have been largely shut out of travel to Cuba since the early days of the Kennedy administration, thanks to a decades-long trade embargo between the two nations. While Americans were forbidden, by law, from traveling to the Communist island nation, Canadians, Europeans, and other travelers were free to enjoy the Caribbean nation’s white sand beaches, vibrant culture, and colonial history.
Since 2014, the Obama administration has been working towards normalization of relations with Cuba, a process that is still unfolding as of this writing, even as president Barack Obama himself visits the island nation. For example, Americans are still forbidden from bringing prized Cuban cigars into the U.S., whether they were purchased directly in Cuba or from a third party outside of the country, according to the New York Times.
Priceline expects to have hotel rooms in Cuba available for booking in a few weeks.
[Image via Shutterstock/merc67]