Travelers can now use Expedia to book hotel rooms in Cuba

Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana, Cuba(Image: Bruce Tuten / CC BY 2.0)

U.S. online travel services company Expedia will start offering online booking for hotels in Cuba, a move that allows it to capitalize on the burgeoning tourism boom to the Caribbean island after the U.S. relaxed sanctions.

According to reports, Expedia has joined 12 U.S. airlines and cruise operators that have already entered Cuba's tourism market since the U.S. eased travel and trade restrictions to the Caribbean country.

These online bookings will include both hotel and bed-and-breakfast accommodation options that customers can pay for online at the time of booking. Previously, Americans had to reserve Cuban hotels through either travel agencies or tour groups. 

"I see a lot of potential. We are talking about the largest country in the Caribbean with significant hotel expansion plans," Veronica Vega, Expedia AM for Caribbean, said in a statement.

The number of travelers to Cuba increased 13 percent to a record 4 million in 2016. The 74 percent hike in U.S. travelers drove the boom. According to a survey, the number of American visitors alone could multiply sevenfold to 2 million by 2025. 

Although U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has been conducting a full review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, U.S. interest in the Cuban market has continued. Analysts and corporate executives said in a statement that it was hard to imagine Trump, a former businessman, would attempt to harm U.S. companies already in Cuba. 

According to U.S. law, general tourism to Cuba is still banned. However, former President Barack Obama's administration gave Americans permission to travel more easily to Cuba for educational, cultural and other authorized purposes without having to go on organized group tours. Expedia said that in order to travel to the country, Americans would have to certify that their trips to fell under one of the 12 categories of authorized travel. 

The travel service website said that for U.S. travelers, it was operating under a general license right for all travel service providers. Meanwhile, the company is operating under a special license granted by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control in December 2016 for non-U.S. travelers. 

Airbnb has been capitalizing on Cuba's tourism market since 2015. That year, the online home-rental service allowed American tourists to book properties in Cuba from its website. This caused the island to become the company's fastest growing market ever last year.