Barcelona mayor’s crackdown on tourism puts Airbnb in the sights

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona’s new mayor is battling home rental websites as she tries to crack down on runaway tourism which she says could drive out poor residents and spoil the charm of the Catalan capital.

A man takes a selfie at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, ​​Spain on August 16, 2015. REUTERS / Albert Gea

Ada Colau threatens to impose fines on companies like Airbnb and Booking.com if they market apartments to tourists without a number indicating that they are registered in the Catalan tourism register.

Colau, a former left-wing housing activist elected in May, also wants rental websites to pass information on landlords.

“Everyone has to play by the same rules of the game,” Colau told Reuters at Barcelona mayor.

“An internet platform cannot become a means to thwart regulations and house illegal tourist apartments. In this case, we must intervene with great force.

Colau, who led a coalition backed by Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos, is part of a new generation of local politicians who have come to power amid backlash against mainstream parties.

The dispute with rental websites is one example of the frictions created by the new online ‘sharing economy’, ranging from San Francisco and Santa Monica restricting short-term home rentals to court injunctions that have hit taxi service. online Uber in a number of countries.

San Francisco-based Airbnb, which connects people wishing to rent out their homes or rooms to temporary guests, has been one of the fastest growing startups in recent years and is valued at over $ 20 billion.

Airbnb, which has around 18,600 listings in Barcelona, ​​its third highest number in Europe, said owners can add the tourism registry number to their listing and its users must adhere to local rules.

A spokesperson for Airbnb, who asked him if he would pass the owners’ information to city hall, said he would not do so voluntarily.

Booking.com, operated by Priceline Group Inc, said it has “strict measures” in place to ensure that all of its properties around the world comply with local laws.

INCREASE IN TOURISM

Since hosting the Olympic Games in 1992, Barcelona has seen a stratospheric increase in tourist numbers, ranging from bachelorette parties on weekends to cruise ship visitors to culture enthusiasts in the footsteps of Picasso’s paintings. or Gaudi buildings.

Tourism provides nearly 400,000 jobs in Catalonia, 13 percent of the total, and it represents 12 percent of Barcelona’s economic output.

But with 27 million visitors descending on the 1.6 million city last year, the procession of tourists descending from Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street, through the old town and the yacht-lined port of luxury is becoming too much for some locals.

Residents of La Barceloneta, a working-class neighborhood next to the beach, regularly organize demonstrations to protest against growing pressure from tourism and bad behavior from tourists, which they say include drunkenness, urinating in the streets and doing party until the early hours of the morning.

One of the targets of their anger is the sharp increase in the number of people renting rooms or apartments through websites such as Airbnb.

“Tourist apartments make the area much more expensive. Apartments that could perfectly be rented at 300 or 400 euros (per month) can be rented at 600 or 700, “said Oriol Casabella, spokesperson for a group in the La Barceloneta neighborhood.

“If this does not stop, a time will come when they will kick us out because there are a lot of people who cannot afford these apartments,” he told Reuters.

This is not the first problem Airbnb is encountering in the region. In July 2014, the Catalan regional government fined Airbnb 30,000 euros ($ 35,000) for breaking the rules on people renting single rooms in their homes and threatened to block access to its website ever since. Catalonia if Airbnb did not change its habits.

Colau says there are thousands of unlicensed apartments in Barcelona that don’t pay the Catalan tourist tax of 0.65 euro ($ 0.76) per person per night.

Shortly after taking office, the council froze new licenses for hotels and other tourist accommodation in Barcelona for up to a year.

The council will use this time to develop a new plan for tourism and to see “if there is still room for growth or if it is time to stabilize the number of visitors,” said Colau.

For years before the frost, new tourist apartments were prohibited in the Old Town.

The Airbnb spokesperson said the rules for home sharing in Barcelona were designed for another era.

“Barcelona should introduce smart policies to support local residents – without acting against them,” he said.

($ 1 = € 0.8573)

Additional reporting by Silvio Castellanos; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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