Airbnb closes its call center in Barcelona: NPR

The tourism sector in Barcelona has come to a standstill this year. Landlords who usually rent apartments to tourists are now renting to locals, and Airbnb has closed its call center there.


Spain is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and Barcelona is one of its most visited cities. Around 20 million people pass through the Catalan capital each year, many of whom stay in tourist apartments. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has completely paralyzed the tourism sector. And as Lucia Benavides reports, apartments previously listed on Airbnb are now being seen on the rental market.

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: This is what the streets of Barcelona looked like at this time of year.


BENAVIDES: Filled with noise and life and tourists – but not this year. Spain has been one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Foreign visitors do not come and tourist apartments remain empty.

ANAHI ARADAS: It was complete paralysis.

BENAVIDES: Anahi Aradas is a journalist who supplements her income by renting a beachfront apartment just outside Barcelona. In previous years, she averaged $6,500 a month during peak season. But two months ago, the cancellations started. Now her apartment will be empty for the summer and she doesn’t expect things to pick up for a while.

ARADAS: Also, I saw there was going to be another outbreak, maybe in October, so I’m looking for someone to stay maybe 11 months or something.

BENAVIDES: Aradas is still hopeful that it will be able to rent to international tourists next year. Thousands of tourist apartments across Spain are now on the local market and at much lower prices. But community activist Daniel Pardo says that won’t change the long-term rental market.

DANIEL PARDO: (speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: “It’s not going to bring back the residents who were driven out of their neighborhoods,” he says. While the tourism industry has contributed millions of dollars to Barcelona’s economy and generated thousands of jobs, it has also increased the cost of living and made many neighborhoods unaffordable for local residents. Carlos Delclos of the Autonomous University of Barcelona says locals won’t benefit yet. Most tourist apartments are only rented for a few months at a time, which makes them unnecessary for most people.

CARLOS DELCLOS: They are not going to go directly into the rental market, offering three-year contracts, which is the minimum for main residents; they will try to do short-term rentals, which must be less than one year.

BENAVIDES: While there are many smaller players in the tourism industry, Delclos says the majority of Airbnb listings are owned by investment companies or people who own multiple properties.

DELCLOS: In the short term, panicked smallholders may be tempted to sell, while those with more assets and bigger sums of money may just sit back and relax and wait.

BENAVIDES: But Delclos says we could eventually see more tourist apartments switch to local rentals if the pandemic continues to depress tourism in Spain.

For NPR News, I’m Lucia Benavides in Moya, Spain.


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