Starting up in Cuba Today: Stay in My Casa Particular
Starting up in Cuba Today: Stay in My Casa Particular
Where to stay in Cuba? Thousands of tourists make the same question due to the overbooking situation and high prices in most of city hotels in the country. Within this context, private houses with rooms for rent are one of the most commonly taken options, not only because they are cheap, but also due to the customized treatment given to hosts. My Casa Particular (My Private House) web platform is one of the most interesting startups in the new Cuban scenario, which allows people living overseas to contact and book their accommodation in a private house throughout the island nation.
With the aim of learning more about this startup, PanamericanWorld talked to Damian Flores Hernandez, product manager, and Yaima Catherin Herrera, project manager of My Casa Particular.
What does My Casa Particular propose?
“We work with this market niche due to the need tourists have to make the arrangements for their accommodation and plan their trip. This web platform fulfills that international need to contact private lodgings. My Casa Particular precisely advertises the accommodations we have in Cuba, although we might not have all of them because we’ve been progressively collecting information throughout these years. We also feature specific ads related to the properties, so tourists get all the information they need to stay in private houses,” Herrera explains.
What makes this startup stand out?
“My Casa Particular not only fosters tourism on the island, but it also boosts a smart tourism, with visitors that truly get in touch with the Cuban culture, which has plenty of traditions and is open for the whole world to get to know them,” Herrera points out.
How many houses for rent are included in the platform?
“My Casa Particular comprises over 2,500 lodgings in Cuba, from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo, and it gives owners the possibility to show the world what they have to offer. There are several platforms providing this accommodation-management service, but My Casa Particular was one of the first ones in the market and we’re pretty well positioned, because we’ve earned the trust of rental owners,” Herrera underlines.
“These lodgings are houses that can offer two, three or four rooms for rent, depending on the tourist’s requirements, so in terms of accommodation capacity per room, the numbers range from 8 thousand to 10 thousand,” Flores details.
How many customers ask for My Casa Particular booking services on an annual basis?
“We are contacted by over 2 thousand foreign visitors a year, that’s the average figure, and we work as intermediaries to facilitate the relation between foreign customers and the owners of these houses,” Flores says.
What value added do you provide?
“My Casa Particular counts on two mobile apps: the first one targets owner customers and the latter aims at tourist customers. The app for owner customers is called My Casa Renta (My Rental House), and owners can manage their lodging availability offline, then connect to our platform and update that data. On the other hand, My Casa Trip (My Trip House) shows all the bookings customers have made by means of our platform. So, tourists can download the free app from either Google Play or our platform and, when they arrive in Cuba, they can use it offline. Once they are at the airport, they can set the route from that position to the house they have booked. That’s all about value added, because it’s free, guides visitors and gives them all the information they need on their reservation, even if they are not connected to the Internet. The booking process must be made online, but after that the customer comes to Cuba and manages everything with this offline app.
How’s the work within My Casa Particular?
“We’re part of a bigger company devoted to web development, graphic design and marketing solutions. Within that company, My Casa Particular is a product we constantly manage and improve. 40 people work for the company and half of them or so are members of My Casa Particular’s team”, Herrera says.
“The company develops several products and, all in all, each one of us works for all of those products in different moments, since the platform is functional 24/7, all 365 days of the year. We can’t let it fall, so you must have a highly-qualified team to do so because while we are sleeping, for example, bookings are being made by the European market,” Flores underscores.
Which are the market segments with the highest access rates in My Casa Particular?
“The European market tops the list. The highest percent of bookings we presently have comes from Germany, followed by Switzerland, Italy, Holland,” Herrera specifies.
Are you planning to reach out to other markets?
“Of course we are, and that’s almost a must, because the current situation around Cuba, with business possibilities, opportunities to grow, pushes us to widen our market range and target public,” Herrera asserts.
How does the business make a profit?
“That’s related to a fare charged by any web platform in terms of maintenance services, servers, the people working for that platform, but we have nothing to do with the price established by the rental houses on our platform,” Flores points out.
Would you describe yourselves as an enterprising project?
“Yes, 150 percent I would say. Because enterprising is not only based on having prosperity concepts for yourself, but also for the society. There is nothing you can do in private or individually without a public impact. I believe that’s a function and social responsibility entrepreneurs presently have. Somehow, everything we do with My Casa Particular contributes to that social and economic development the country needs so badly. From that point of view, yes we are entrepreneurs and we’re constantly reinventing business models linked to the sustainable development of the company and ourselves,” Herrera explains.
“Having succeeded in connecting foreign tourists and rental owners here in Cuba defines us as entrepreneurs, as well as our free services that represent value added for both tourists and Cuban owners. That had never been done before in this type of initiative. For instance, we have a new product, a weekly e-newsletter named Hostelería Cuba (Cuba Hotel & Catering Business), in which we help owners discover their business, improve it, treat visitors according to their origin. Those are free tips for owners, and small entrepreneurs have joined us during the 6 months we’ve been issuing this newsletter. So far, we have over 1,500 subscribers and the number is going up,” Flores says.
Text and pictures: Beatriz Rosales / PanamericanWorld - Havana