Tourism: post-pandemic, European cities again vigilant against short-term rentals

After two years of calm due to the pandemic, popular destinations in Europe such as Paris, Amsterdam, Florence or Barcelona hope that the European Commission will help them regulate the market for short-term tourist rentals such as Airbnb in order to counter a unbridled recovery of tourism.

After meeting in Barcelona, ​​New York and Buenos Aires, representatives of hotel associations around the world – who denounce the ” unfair competition “ of these rentals -, experts, lawyers and local elected officials debated, Monday and Tuesday (23-24 May) in Paris, the regulation of short-term tourist rentals during the “ReformBnB” conference.

“During the health crisis, short-term tourist rentals seemed to no longer be a problem, but now that tourism is restarting strongly, we will quickly return to 2019 attendance”estimated Jacob Wedemeijer, deputy mayor of Amsterdam in charge of tourism.

Gold, “that year, the citizens of our cities expressed their fed up with the pressure of mass tourism which is intimately linked to these rentals”according to him.

Sign of this recovery: in the first quarter the platform for booking accommodation between individuals Airbnb, a heavyweight in the sector alongside in particular, saw its turnover jump by 80% compared to the first three months of 2019 – before the pandemic – at $1.5 billion.

In Amsterdam, where these rentals have “pushes housing prices up, making them unaffordable for a growing share of the population”, “it is no longer uncommon to have to spend a million euros to acquire an ordinary apartment”Mr. Wedemeijer reported.

In Barcelona, ​​who “welcomed 12 million tourists a year before the pandemic”recalls Janet Cid Sanz, deputy mayor in charge of housing, “80% of residents demand a change in the tourism model”. Because these rentals “cause gentrification that evicts residents and generates a lot of conflict”she says.

“Difficult” regulation

It’s necessary “a common strategy” estimated Cecilia Del Re, assistant for tourism of the city of Florence, for “protect residents and students, workers”.

In recent years, cities across Europe have implemented “regulations of extraordinary diversity” to limit the proliferation of short-term rentals that are drying up the housing market, says Claire Colomb, professor of urban studies and planning at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London.

If some opt for a “relatively laissez faire like Rome and Milan, others are very strict like Berlin, but many choose a middle way, distinguishing between the occasional rental of main residences, limited to 120 days a year in Paris for example, and speculative activity of professional renters »she observed.

Nevertheless “regulating is very difficult”because this “implies having data” on the number and location of these rentals, “but platforms like Airbnb do not make them public, except in Paris and Barcelona – and the information provided is not necessarily complete…”according to Ms. Colomb.

In addition, combating fraud “is expensive for cities” : they employ battalions of controllers – 100 in Barcelona, ​​30 in Paris – and “lawyers who go through Community law to define what they can or cannot do in terms of regulation”she says.

Paris, who “sue the lessors in court”won before the European Court of Justice: this “decided in September 2020 that the fight against the housing shortage was an objective of general interest sufficient to impose (its regulations) on owners”recalled Blanche Guillemot, director of housing for the city.

The French capital also ordered Airbnb to be fined 8 million euros for having posted illegal advertisements and to 1.23 million euros for not having transmitted data on overnight stays.

But “the European Commission must stop its procrastination and support cities in their desire to regulate”believes Mr. Wedemeijer, summarizing the feeling of the cities gathered on the occasion of “ReformBnB”, which will soon be transformed into an international association.

Claiming to want to standardize regulations in Europe, the Commission carried out a public consultation at the end of 2021 to help it establish “responsible, fair and reliable growth of short-term rentals”.

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Tourism: post-pandemic, European cities again vigilant against short-term rentals