Cuban locals who rent their homes to U.S. visitors using Airbnb have been complaining about not receiving payments for months now, The Miami Herald reports. The American company opened its platform to Cubans after former U.S. President Barack Obama thawed relations with Cuba in 2014.
It was the first major U.S. company to enter the island nation and has become a convenient way for locals to directly earn a significant income. It worked well until a few months ago. One Cuban host told the press that the digital platform now owes her $2,000 and the company has not told when she can expect to receive her money.
According to Airbnb, Cuba has had the fastest growth of any country in the history of the platform. When the company began operating on the island in 2015, it already had 4,000 properties listed. That figure has since multiplied very quickly and there are now almost 20,000 listings across Cuba.
Banking transactions between Cuba and the U.S. are still prohibited because of the U.S. embargo. There are currently only two banks, Banco Popular of Puerto Rico and Stonegate Bank of Florida, that issue cards that can be used in Cuba. However the banks won’t issue the cards to Cuban nationals.
To work around the embargo’s financial prohibitions, Airbnb uses a Florida-based remittance company called VaCuba to make the payments. VaCuba converts the dollars paid by visitors who rent accommodation in Cuba using Airbnb into Cuban pesos, and then personally delivers it to hosts on the island.
The VaCuba system reportedly worked well until about two months ago, when the company stopped delivering payments as scheduled. At least a dozen Cuban hosts have made complaints about delayed payments on Airbnb’s community forum since the beginning of this year. Hosts are getting frustrated with the company’s inaction.
While Cuban hosts are grateful of the amount of money they now earn by renting rooms on Airbnb (estimates show hosts can earn up to $227 a week for a room in Havana), most believe that the payment problem is something Airbnb should deal with.
A spokesperson for Airbnb told news sources that the quick pace of growth of the service in Cuba is prompting a “reassessment of the method of payment,” but they did not say what options the company is considering.
“While we are proud the platform has proven to be an effective way to bring significant income directly to the Cuban people, the volume has recently led to our hosts in Cuba experiencing a delay in payouts and we take this matter very seriously,” said an Airbnb spokesperson in a statement to the press.
“We recognize that we need to work to support money getting to Cuban hosts as quickly as possible — consistent with the historical approach to casas particulares — and we are working around the clock on near-term and long-term solutions to ensure our growing host community gets paid quickly and efficiently.”