UPDATE 1-Priceline Group looks at growing Cuba operation - spokeswoman
(Adds Priceline comment, background, byline)
By Jeffrey Dastin
Sept 20 (Reuters) - Priceline Group Inc is looking at ways to grow its operation in Cuba in light of new rules the United States announced Friday that ease trade and investment restrictions with the Communist-ruled island.
Priceline Group, the most profitable online travel services company in the world, is evaluating regulations that allow U.S. companies to set up bank accounts and an office in Cuba, its Vice President of Global Communications Leslie Cafferty told Reuters on Sunday.
"We are exploring all of these new options and hope to have operations up and running soon," she said.
The company has already made moves to expand its business to Cuba. Its subsidiary Kayak, a so-called "meta-search" engine that takes listings from other search tools on the web, currently shows customers hotel and flight listings for Cuba.
While Cafferty said Friday's regulations "don't change much" in part because U.S. citizens remain barred from leisure travel on the island, she said they could help pave the way for Americans to book travel directly on the group's largest and most global subsidiary, Booking.com.
The U.S. rules come as Washington and Havana inch toward normal relations after more than half a century of hostility that followed Cuba's 1959 revolution. The two countries restored diplomatic ties and reopened embassies earlier this summer. (Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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