When so much of the world is a couple clicks away, Cuba remains a mythical land of pastels and 1950s era cars, a hotspot of Cold War tensions, and a forbidden fruit of American tourism. Like anything forbidden, the more we can’t have it, the more we want it, so for decades, the American dream to visit Cuba has been growing.
Over the last several years, the Obama administration has made it a priority to mend its relationship with Cuba, culminating in Obama’s trip to the country this month – the first time a US president visited Cuba in nearly a century – where he announced new rules that will allow Americans to travel to Cuba on their own.
Now that the dream to visit Cuba can become a reality, how has demand evolved? Jumpshot analyzed American search and click-through behavior on Google Flights, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor in 2016 and found that demand increased on average by 700 percent following Obama’s trip to Cuba. And the average daily American visitors searching for Cuba flights and accommodations between January and March grew by 13.5% on Airbnb, 6.3% on Google Flights, and 9.5% on TripAdvisor.
Obama’s visit to Cuba spikes interest
When the US president first announced on February 18 that he would be visiting Cuba, the amount of U.S. users searching for vacations in Cuba on TripAdvisor increased by 528% from the daily average since the beginning of the year. Then, on Obama’s actual visit date on March 21, search traffic in regards to travel to Cuba saw huge spikes, which averaged at seven times more than the past:
- Google flight searches to Havana airport increased by 735% from the YTD daily average.
- Airbnb saw onsite rental searches increase by 683% from the daily average since the beginning of the year.
Americans have waited long enough and want to go to Cuba now
Knowing the demand is there, we looked into when Americans want to travel to Cuba. Turns out, it’s in the next three months. Americans looking for flights or rentals on March 21 were thinking of the near future:
- 90% of the Google flight searches were for April or May.
- 73% of the Airbnb rental searches provided check-in dates between May and July.
The Infrastructure is lacking
Despite nearly every major airline expressing intent to fly into Havana, online travel websites offering instant hotel booking in the country, and cruising companies approved to go to Cuba, the reality is that there are still very few travel and accommodation options for tourists.
According to our data, one of the most visited Cuba-related pages on TripAdvisor was for the best Cuba vacation packages, which pulls up zero options. Additionally, TripAdvisor does not offer direct booking for standalone hotel searches, like it does with other destinations. Many pages redirect to other international booking sites like Barcelo, Otel, and Amoma, or urge customers to contact the hotel directly.
For this reason, Airbnb is proving to be exceptionally accommodating to tourists. The eight-year-old San Francisco startup has been operating on the island since last April. Over the last year, more than 13,000 American guests have stayed with Airbnb hosts in Cuba and nearly 4,000 homes are on Airbnb currently, compared to 1,000 in 2015.
Bottom line: While major airlines compete for a handful of routes to Cuba from the U.S., interest from American tourists continues to increase. And as hotel booking websites lag behind, Airbnb gains a stronger foothold in the country. The landscape is changing extremely rapidly; the demand for travel to and accommodations in Cuba is there. We look forward to seeing how U.S. tourism will blossom in Cuba.