Home Rentals (casa
By Philips Peters. Lexington Institute.
Along the main street of Vinales, a small town that is a major tourism
center in western Cuba's spectacular tobacco country, 33 of the 107
houses display signs that show they are licensed to lodge foreign
visitors. Locals say there are about 300 private home rentals; if
accurate, the private rentals outnumber the 173 rooms in the area's
three state-owned hotels.
On the other end of the island in the historic town of Baracoa,
private rentals are available throughout the town. A long-time
employee of the town's only hotel says that they outnumber the hotel's
The renters' prosperity has led to many renovations, he said, leading
some to call their sector "Little Miami." In Ciego de Avila, a
provincial capital that is not a tourism hot spot, a cuentapropista
who rents a room to tourists says he is one of 43 with a housing
rental license. He obtained his license in 2004, with difficulty.
Tired of tussling with inspectors in his former pizza business, he
decided to switch to a different line of self-employment. He prodded
local housing officials for more than two years for a license to rent
his spare room with a private bath and old Russian air conditioner.
The main point of contention was the need to demonstrate that his
family would not be overcrowded in its remaining space. He understands
the Economics 101 concept of "elasticity of
demand;" he charges the low rate of $15-$25 per night that reduces
nightly profit and sometimes makes it hard to pay his monthly tax, but
he attracts more first-time customers.
A 2005 academic study of Cuba's tourism industry noted that in
addition to Cuba's 41,000-room hotel capacity, there are 5,000 to
6,000 rooms available for tourists to rent in private homes. Our
survey included twelve home rentals. On average, they had been in
business three years and nine months and their average profit was $438
per month after paying an average tax of $267. The lowest tax per room
rented was $100 in Ciego de Avila, the highest $250 in Havana's
Housing rental is a lucrative but challenging line of selfemployment,
made more difficult by taxes and regulatory requirements that have
grown steeper in recent years. A 2003 law increased taxes by levying
tax on common areas used by guests such as hallways, living and dining
rooms, and patios, in addition to the per-room tax. A special license
is required to offer food service to guests. Proprietors are required
to keep a log of guests, their dates of stay, and their passport
information, and they must keep records of their revenues.
The main challenge that these cuentapropistas cite is drumming up
business, because they must make their monthly tax payment even if
their revenues are zero.
Many advertise on the internet, using sites developed and hosted by
friends overseas. Many also collaborate in informal referral networks
and, following what one calls "the unwritten law of home rental," they
pay commissions to people outside those networks who bring them
A woman who has rented two rooms in Havana since 1997 struggled to
establish her business. "At first, no one knew me," she said. She
strived to achieve good quality and thereby establish a good
word-of-mouth reputation. Her first big break was to rent to a group
of Americans who generated lots of referrals and return business. But
"the best thing that ever happened" was when her home was listed in
the Lonely Planet tourism guide—a bit of free free publicity that now
generates steady business.
One of the best mini-portal to
find a casa particular anywhere in Cuba is: