strikes deal with Cuba to let Americans book hotels
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[March 21, 2016]
By Mimi Dwyer
(Reuters) - Priceline Group has agreed with
Cuba to make Cuban hotel rooms available to U.S. customers via
subsidiary Booking.com, becoming the first U.S. online travel agency to
strike a deal with the island state, a Booking.com executive said.
The deal comes on the first full day of U.S. President Barack
Obamaís visit to Cuba and on the heels of U.S. hotel firm Starwood
Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's agreement with the Cuban government to
manage and market three Havana hotel properties.
Booking.com would allow Americans traveling to Cuba to reserve and
pay for rooms at a number of Cuban and foreign hotels, starting in
several weeks, Booking.com Americas Managing Director Todd Dunlap
told Reuters in an interview.
Americans previously had to reserve Cuban hotels principally through
travel agencies or tour groups.
Booking.com would operate initially in Cuba only in Havana, Dunlap
said. It planned to work with foreign firms already on the island,
including France's Accor and Spanish chains MeliŠ Hotels
International SA and NH Hotel Group SA. It was also working on deals
with state-run Cuban chains.
The only major American lodging booking service currently available
to Americans traveling to Cuba is online home-rental marketplace
Airbnb, which began operating in Cuba in April last year.
Priceline began working on bringing its services to Cuba shortly
after President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties
with the island on December 17, 2014.
Cuban tourism infrastructure has seen significant strain since U.S.
relations to the island warmed. Prices have surged for the islandís
63,000 hotel rooms, many of which are booked solid months in
advance. Cuba received a record 3.52 million visitors last year, up
17.4 percent from 2014. American visits rose 77 percent to 161,000,
not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.
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Tourism to Cuba is still technically illegal under the U.S. trade
embargo. U.S. travelers to the island are required to do so under
"general licenses" which permit travel for religion, family visits,
cultural exchange, sports, and other purposes approved by the
Treasuryís Office of Foreign Asset Control. On March 17 OFAC said it
would allow individual people-to-people educational exchanges, as
Booking.com would ask travelers to certify that they fit one of the
Treasury's approved travel categories, but would not verify their
status, Dunlap said. The company would keep travelersí information
on file for five years after their travel, should officials choose
(Additional reporting by Mike Stone in New York, editing by Peter
Henderson and Stephen Coates)
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