WASHINGTON – Booking.com, a unit of Priceline Group, signed an agreement with Cuba on Monday – the second day of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Havana – that will make it the first U.S. online travel agency with operations on the Communist-ruled island.
U.S. citizens authorized to travel to Cuba will be able to instantly reserve hotel rooms in Havana via Booking.com starting in April, a company spokesman told EFE, although he added that tourists from the rest of the world would not have access to the travel service.
Although initially U.S. travelers will only be able to book hotels in Havana, the company plans to expand its offering to other tourist sites on the Caribbean island.
“With the news of the easing of U.S. travel restrictions, we began working immediately with the local Cuban government, tourism authorities and our local hotel partners to launch the first platform to allow travelers to book and confirm instantly with the click of a button,” Todd Dunlap, Booking.com’s managing director for the Americas, was quoted as saying in a press release.
The announcement comes a day after San Francisco-based online lodging service Airbnb said it had received special authorization from the Obama administration to allow tourists from all over the world – and not just U.S. travelers – to book stays in one of 4,000 “casas particulares,” or traditional private home-stays run by local micro-entrepreneurs.
On Saturday, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide signed an agreement to operate two hotels in Havana, the first bilateral deal between a U.S. company and Cuban authorities since 1959.
In both cases, the U.S. government granted special permission that allows those companies to get around the decades-old trade embargo against Cuba, which the Obama administration has unsuccessfully urged Congress to lift.
Obama, who began his historic three-day trip to Cuba on Sunday night, is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in nearly 90 years and the only one to do so since the triumph of the revolution in 1959.