Cuba - The Payment Challenge (& The Booking.com Formal Response)

For those of us who live in and run Casa's in Cuba, we already know that Cuba is a special case......

With lots of people having been severely burnt by the freezing of Smilewallets assets and no likely resolution, we are collectively looking at even further losses with Booking.com's inability to offer any alternative solutions for payments in Cuba. Having failed to make any real progress using the Extranet. I tried to get to the bottom of the problem by writing directly to the CEO Giliian Lang (detailed below) :

Sadly, I just got back a very non-comital response (also detailed below) that offers no confidence that anything will change soon.

I therefore, will personally be suspending my listings until I get some form of response from booking.com that gives me hope that I may get access to the monies already owed to me and still sitting on their un-processable Virtual Cards. I suggest others do the same.

In theory if customers cannot find Cuban Casa's available on Booking.com they will go elsewhere to find them and we will still get the business.

My Email : 

'Dear Gillian,

In your recent email you make it clear that booking.com takes no responsibility for the recent issues with Smile.com for Cuban ‘Partners'.
Your positioning on this is completely understandable, as you are not responsible for their business or their business practices. 
However, let me show you that Booking.com has singlehandedly forced us into this sad situation.
On that basis, you do have direct responsibility for leaving many Cubans Partners with huge losses
Let me outline briefly the facts :
  • Regardless of registration country and where you may be domiciled,  as a Cuban partner you are forced to advertise and accept payment in USD$’s. WE HAVE NO CHOICE!
  • Unlike other Partners we are forced to accept payment by Virtual Card. Especially Ironic as there is ‘virtually' no card processing within the country! WE HAVE NO CHOICE!
  • We are also forced by Booking.com to process the payments in in $’s. We Therefore have to find a $ Card Processor. WE HAVE NO CHOICE! 
  • As Cuba is 99% a cash society, GIVEN A CHOICE, Cubans would choose to be paid in cash. WE HAVE NO CHOICE!  
  • Because of all these reasons, we are made to feel criminalised and are forced into lying to potential Banks and processors. WE HAVE NO CHOICE!
  • When all attempts to process Virtual Cards using standard banks are foiled, we are told by Booking.com that if we can’t find a processor then they will close our account. WE HAVE NO CHOICE! 
  • Finally we are driven to consider the processors that Booking.com suggests other businesses are ‘successfully’ using, to get around the problems of Booking.com’s making (yes we know they are not recommendations, just suggestions. This is made very clear) WE HAVE NO CHOICE!
  • We then apply for a SmileWallet. For the avoidance of doubt WE HAVE NO CHOICE! 
You might see a bit of a theme here………Booking.com’s policies on Cuba gave us no choice.
To give you some background, I originally come from a banking background. Specifically Debit and Credit card. I have even been responsible for launching Virtual Credit cards. I love Virtual cards! I think they are a great option! They solve a myriad of issues when used in the right circumstances. 
Virtual Cards as a means of money transmission in relation to Cuba are not a great option. They are an inappropriate option. The worst option.
When applying for Smile, I was extremely worried that my money would be unprotected. Their attitude to KYC was lax, the time delay on them processing funds and then transferring the monies excessive, as were all their charges. These charges meant that it was necessary for Cubans to build up $1000’s in balances before attempting transfers, thereby putting them at greater and unnecessary risk should Smile prove a problem. Coming from a banking background. I have to confess I was worried that I would never receive my money.
Lo and behold Smile has been a disaster for many Cubans, many of whom had already paid out commissions to 3rd parties to act as their agent’s on line, because regular Internet is still out of the reach for many Cubans.
Let me be very clear :
If we are you partners, why do you not work to help us make this partnership successful. Rather than taking your commissions and wishing us luck in trying to solve the problems that you have created for us. 
Let there be no Mistake……..
You force Cubans into using Virtual Credit cards.
We had no choice!
You forced us into using SmileWallet. 
We had no choice!
Please therefore give us the curtesy of explaining WHY!
If you really do believe that your users are your partners, work with us please, not against us!
Please help us find a solution that works for Cuba. It very definitely is not Virtual Cards!
  • I can think of no good reason why Cuban’s shouldn’t be paid in cash.
  • Yes we would have the risk of more ‘no-shows’ but we would have a choice as to whether that risk was acceptable to us!
  •  If Booking.com has a  fear of not receiving commission payments. Booking.com could take a 15% deposit from Guests by card for all Cuba Casa Bookings which removes this issue.
  • If you aren’t able to help with an alternate solution I would ask that you consider extending the expiry date beyond 6 months on outstanding Virtual cards in order to enable us to seek other options.
As an aside and in case you are not aware, US$'s are the worst possible Currency for Cubans to conduct business in. It is not our currency so why force us to use it?
As I am sure you are aware, an additional 10% commission is levied for changing $’s into CUC. 
If you aren’t able to help your Cuban partners find a different solution I foresee that we will need to end our partnerships with you……. not because we want to but because :
If you would like a Cuban partner with whom you can discuss various options going forward, I am more than happy to make myself available!
If you would like to visit Cuba to see the problems for yourself and in order to try and find a solution, I am happy to make a room in my Casa available to you for a week free of charge. Obviously you can find me on Booking.com (at the moment) under Fentons The Boutique Casa.
I look forward to hearing from you in the next few days.
Yours sincerely and kind regards
Amanda Fenton
Cel : +53 58435047'

Booking.com's Response : 

Dear Amanda, 

I am reaching out to you from our Customer Service Management department on behalf of our CEO Gillian Tans.  First of all, we lament for the frustration that this situation has caused to you and other Partners in Cuba. We take your feedback to heart. Thank you!

We have reviewed and analyzed all alternatives, but the payout process through VCC's is the only feasible payment option at this point. In the event a new model is rolled out we will let you and all other Partners in Cuba know.

As we continue working on improving Partner experience we will be sure your feedback is directed to the appropriate team.

Once again thank you for taking the time to contact Booking.com.

Kind regards,

Celio Freitas

CS Team Lead

Booking.com Customer Service Center (U.S.A.) Inc.
8529 South Park Circle, Suite 400 Orlando FL 32819 United States of America

Direct +14075832532

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1 Replies

Barry Reilly



wow a lot of good to know info there for other new Cuban listings.

10 days ago