Booking.com to offer hotel reservations in Cuba

Booking.com to offer hotel reservations in Cuba
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Priceline Group on Monday announced it will begin allowing U.S. citizens to reserve Cuban hotels through its Booking.com website.

The company said it will be the first online travel hub to offer Americans the service, which is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks. 

The announcement coincides with President Obama’s visit to the country this week, the first time in nearly a century that a sitting president has traveled to the island. 

Priceline’s move follows the U.S. government’s 2014 decision to ease some U.S. travel restrictions to the country. The company said Monday’s announcement is the culmination of months of work with Cuba’s government and local hotels in the country. 

While the U.S-Cuba trade embargo still remains in place, the White House in 2014 announced a series of moves meant to allow more contact with the nation just off Florida’s southern coast. 

Americans can obtain general licenses to visit the country for 12 different reasons, including family visits, research, religious activities or more general educational activities. 

The San Francisco-based Airbnb, which helps homeowners rent out their residences for a short time, has allowed Americans to book Cuban rentals for about a year. 

Initially, those listings were only available for people in the United States, but the company over the weekend announced it is opening those listings to everyone. 

Cuba takes in about 3.5 million visitors a year, according to Reuters. And the country has about 63,000 hotel rooms. 

Priceline said initially its service would only be available for properties in Havana. The company said the bookings would only be available for U.S. travelers who meet the U.S. government’s travel criteria, but it did not mention how it would enforce that. 

Updated at 12:20 p.m.