HAVANA TIMES – The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that Airbnb Payments, owned by Airbnb, agreed to remit $91,172.29 “to settle its possible civil liability for apparent violations of the sanctions against Cuba.”
The note from the agency belonging to the US Treasury Department reports that “this activity included payments related to guests traveling for reasons outside of the authorized categories of OFAC, as well as failing to keep certain mandatory records associated with transactions related to Cuba.”
The 12 categories of authorized trips to Cuba are: family visits; Official business of the United States government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; export, import or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
At the urging of OFAC, Airbnb conducted a review based on a sample of transactions by stays (accommodation of travelers by Airbnb ‘hosts’) and ‘experiences’ (traveler activities provided by Airbnb hosts) in Cuba. This control showed that between September 28, 2015, and March 1, 2020, Airbnb processed payments related to 3,464 transactions of stays in Cuba by Airbnb guests who traveled for reasons outside the authorized categories.
The average transaction amount for each stay was $139.52. Airbnb also processed payments related to 3,076 transactions for Experiences in which Airbnb Payments did not keep records in accordance with OFAC regulations. The average transaction amount processed for each Experience was $78.40.
Airbnb stated that it took steps to correct its enforcement deficiencies and, as part of its agreement with OFAC, implement additional commitments designed to minimize the risk of a similar violation in the future. These include:
– An IP blocking regime to consider problems related to allowing people located in Cuba to act as hosts on the Airbnb, Inc. platform, at the same time as preventing these people from conducting transactions as guests on the platform;
– The compilation of information on the country of residence and the payment instrument, in order to determine whether the users are nationals or residents of Cuba;
– A review of Hosts in Cuba to ensure that no Hosts are officials of the Cuban government or members of the Communist Party, and also perform manual checks to ensure that there are no publications associated with the Cuba Restricted List;
– Require Guests who book a Stay or Experience to complete a certification before completing the process; and
– Require that users who include a property in Cuba as a Host on the Airbnb, Inc. platform certify that they are independent entrepreneurs.
Airbnb has been enabled in Cuba since April 2015. In just hours, nearly a thousand ads from landlords across the country appeared, most of them in Havana.
Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s former deputy national security adviser and political analyst, commented on Twitter that the OFAC fine involves “denying US citizens the ability to directly bring income to Cubans and build connections between our people.”
Rhodes pointed to the contradiction in the fact that “allowing more US citizens to travel to Cuba was a policy that many members of Biden’s team helped design in 2015.”
In November 2020, it became known that OFAC was investigating Airbnb activities in Cuba to review compliance with the US sanctions against the island.
“Depending on OFAC’s assessment of its Cuba review, we could be subject to potentially significant civil monetary penalties and litigation, and our brand and reputation could be adversely affected,” the company said at the time.
Airbnb in Cuba in figures*
$40 million paid to Cuban people to share their home, between 2015 and 2017
33 nights is the average number of nights that Cuban hosts share their space per year
$164 is the average amount paid per reservation to a Cuban host
The average age of Cuban hosts is 43.
$2,700 is the average annual payment for a Cuban host
58% of Cuban Airbnb hosts are women
*Figures from 2019