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July 8, 2018

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European cities hit back as Airbnb turns 10

FACING competition from Airbnb, which will celebrate a decade this summer, top European attractions such as Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona are out to revamp their own offerings.

The move is to keep rental prices in check yet keep supply healthy as Airbnb continues to be a thorn in the side of hoteliers.

Ten years on, Airbnb is worth an estimated US$31 billion and has a stock of 5 million accommodation units in 81,000 cities across some 200 countries.

Those statistics make it a standout success story of the sharing economy as it responds to “rising touristic and professional demand for independent and more spacious centrally located accommodation in large cities,” reported France’s urbanism association Apur, last month.

The hotel industry is less sold on the success of what has become a big rival eating into its business without being subject to the same legal and fiscal constraints.

Municipal authorities have also expressed “numerous misgivings,” notes Apur, finding Airbnb-style rentals have driven up prices to the extent many major European cities as well as New York and Tokyo have embarked upon a regulatory offensive.

Paris, Airbnb’s No. 1 market globally with some 60,000 rentals, has already faced legal challenges along with rival Wimdu.

Authorities have also clamped down harder on owners not respecting legal requirements.

Paris, having already last year capped the maximum number of days permitted for a short-term let to 120 annually, also said in April it would sue Airbnb and Wimdu for failing to remove ads from people not properly declaring their properties. Spanish cities have tried hard to put the squeeze on private landlords by, for example, limiting offerings to ground floor apartments which also afford provision of a private entrance.

Palma de Mallorca is seeking an outright ban after seeing such rentals soar 40 percent between 2013 and 2017.

Amsterdam in 2016 signed an accord banning rentals beyond 60 days a year.

Berlin, which has seen real estate prices soar in recent years, also om the same year banned renting out more than one room in one’s own home with a fine of 100,000 euros (US$110,000) as a deterrent.

Even so, since May, that has been relaxed to allow renting out one’s entire private apartment.

On June 15, representatives from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid and Paris — with Berlin absent but associated — met to “take stock of the extent of the phenomenon and compare public policy,” said Ian Brossat, tasked with rental affairs at Paris city hall.

“We are up against doublespeak from the platform (Airbnb) which, on the one hand, says it is going to play it by the rules and yet, on the other, indulges in intense lobbying in Brussels,” Brossat said.

Despite the turbulence, professionals recognize that Airbnb has contributed to the sector’s positive overall development.

“I’m very much an admirer. They have done remarkable work in facilitating reservation, trip preparation and the placing in contact with and very rapid exchange of information with the host,” said Fabrice Collet, director general of France’s B&B group, adding their pricing strategy “has enabled families to travel who previously were not able to do so.”


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