Barcelona hits Airbnb with heavy fine
THE funny war between colocation sites and Barcelona seems to have ended. After months of fighting between the parties, Barcelona this week imposed fines of € 600,000 ($ 636,000) each on Airbnb and HomeAway, which it says have offered to rent unlicensed properties to vacationers. The companies had already been fined a symbolic amount last year. HomeAway says it will pay the fine; Airbnb is attractive.
Airbnb says this is “part of the solution” in Barcelona. It depends on what problem he thinks he is tackling. Barcelona is a cramped city. The number of visitors to the city has more than doubled since the start of the decade, from 3.1 million in 2000 to 7.8 million in 2014. That is nearly five tourists for each inhabitant. Tourist accommodation is scarce. The average hotel occupancy rate in Barcelona is 78%, the upper from one of the main cities of Spain. The revenue per room of hotels is also higher than in other cities. All of this suggests a strong demand for alternative hosting providers like Airbnb.
However, Ada Colau, the mayor, has long promised to crack down on such rentals. Some of his arguments will be familiar to people in other cities, from New York to Berlin, who are also trying to put the brakes on Airbnb. When businessmen buy real estate in an area for the sole purpose of renting it out to tourists, the locals are forced to leave. Additionally, vacationers who move into residential blocks can be antisocial neighbors, especially in famous party cities like Barcelona.
But some issues are more personal to the Catalan capital. As tourists crowd the narrow streets around Las Ramblas and crowd around Gaudí’s architecture, Colau fears the city will become little more than a theme park, in the mold of Venice. It can be doomed to failure. The more popular a place, the less attractive it is. (You could call it Yogi Berra’s paradox. Arguing that his favorite restaurant in St Louis had become too popular, the baseball coach lamented, “No one is going, it’s too crowded.”) problem for Barcelona is therefore not to increase the offer. of rooms to accommodate the number of visitors, but keeping demand under control.
Gulliver has suggested in the past that one way to do this might be to reduce the number of cruise liners that dock in the city.
When cities like Barcelona risk falling victim to their own success, the best place to start is deciding what type of tourists to retain. Barcelona and Venice are both firmly on the cruise ship circuit; perhaps a third of visitors to the Catalan capital arrive on a large boat. For some cities, without a doubt, they are an invaluable source of income. But for those who are perched on the verge of being overwhelmed, they seem like a good place to start control. They are less valuable than other visitors because they don’t stay in hotels and very often don’t even eat in restaurants. In addition, the vibe they give to a city is somewhat frenetic. After all, they arrive in droves with just a few hours to suck in all the culture, architecture, and shopping they can before moving on to the next leg of the itinerary. It may be time to activate cruise control.
But as Airbnb and its ilk have become more popular, so they have become another obvious target in cities like Barcelona. Few will advocate a total ban on vacation rentals in residential areas. Fewer still have a problem with those who rent out the spare bedroom in their house. However, it seems reasonable to regulate the supply of these goods in order to ensure that cities do not turn the success of tourism into failure.