Airbnb seeks Barcelona truce over too many tourists

Airbnb wants a truce with Barcelona. The home-sharing platform plans to limit the number of home rentals for tourists in central Barcelona, while separating professional landlords from regular users amid a backlash from local authorities concerned about mass tourism. 

The latest proposal follows similar steps announced in other tourist destinations like London and Amsterdam as the company responds to unease in European cities over the boom in informal accommodation services.

At stake for Airbnb is the future of its listings business in Barcelona, a city with 1.7m inhabitants that lured more than 8m foreign tourists in 2016 to visit sights such as the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia and the Camp Nou soccer stadium. For the city itself, its disputes with Airbnb and other rental platforms are part of a wider challenge to balance the economic benefits of mass tourism with preserving its character and quality of life.

“We don’t want Barcelona turning into a theme park where neighbours are priced out of their homes and local businesses come under pressure,” Janet Sanz, a deputy mayor in charge of urban planning issues at Barcelona council, said. “We want to make tourism compatible with the way of life of the people of Barcelona.”

Under the new guidelines, Airbnb will limit the number of home rentals to one property in the central Barcelona area of Ciutat Vella unless the listing is run by a professional, in which case they will be required to provide business information on its website starting in April.

Airbnb’s business in the city has almost doubled in two years, rising to 20,000 listings from 11,000 in 2014. Barcelona is now the fourth-biggest city for Airbnb rentals in Europe behind Paris, London, and Rome and the ninth-biggest in the world. As many as 900,000 people used Airbnb to arrange accommodation in Barcelona in 2015, say the company.

Cities including New York have criticised Airbnb for becoming a platform for unregulated hotels, while Paris officials have said they are worried about meeting housing needs as some neighbourhoods are swamped by tourists.

“Airbnb is part of the solution in Barcelona,” said Arnaldo Munoz, general manager of marketing services for Airbnb in Spain and Portugal.

Even so, its rapid growth has aggravated city authorities who slapped a €600,000 fine on Airbnb in November for advertising what they deemed to be illegal room rentals. Airbnb said it would appeal the fine.

The amount of tax revenue lost because of online lodging platforms could be as high as €800m a year, the study by EY, Tourism & Law, and Nielsen said.

Bloomberg


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