Overtourism in Barcelona: Airbnb and short-term rentals

Skift take

Tourist apartments are an integral part of Barcelona‘s tourist industry today, so it is time for both parties to go beyond the limits of permits and legal claims to seek a holistic approach that protects the quality of life of residents while accommodating visitors.

Samantha Shankman, Skift

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Barcelona’s city government has opened nearly 6,000 disciplinary cases against illegal tourist apartments over the past 16 months – signs of an ongoing conflict between the city’s burgeoning tourism industry against local regulators and many residents.

Of those cases, about a third of the apartments were operating without a permit and only 628 responded to government requests, according to data published in early July.

Tourist apartments have become one of the most popular accommodation options for visitors to Barcelona, ​​but early attempts to regulate the city fell short given the ubiquity of rentals and their impact. residual on urban life.

Tourist apartments in Barcelona operate under a licensing system. Under the leadership of Marian Muro, former Managing Director of Cataluña Tourism, the first regional regulations impacting tourist apartments were put in place in 2012.

“We calculated that there were around 500,000 tourist apartments throughout Catalonia that were not regulated. We did not know their characteristics, if they had the right requirements for tourists, so we created a regulation and called the houses for tourist use HUT. There were tourist apartments and we established minimum requirements, ”says Muro in the new documentary from Skift Barcelona and the Trials of 21st Century Tourism.

“It was a very controversial regulation because the other accommodation sectors did not perceive it well, but it allowed us to regularize 250,000 places in Catalonia. It was something that hadn’t happened anywhere else. We created a regulation and then were very strict in its application.

In the following years, the Barcelona government adopted moratoriums to stop licensing first in the old town and then throughout the city. Mayor Ada Colau then went further by suspending licenses for all tourist accommodation developments, hotel licenses and tourism businesses.

The demand for tourist apartments, with an increase in the number of arrivals coupled with a zero development of stocks, continued to grow.

There are only 9,606 tourist apartment licenses in Barcelona, ​​but Mayor Colau estimates that there are 6,000 other apartments dedicated to the same purpose without any permits. Other estimates claim that there are 50,000 beds in legal apartments and another 50,000 in illegal apartments, more than the 75,000 hotel beds available.

Airbnb confirmed this popularity by releasing data showing that 1.24 million visitors used Airbnb in Barcelona in 2016, a 40% increase from 2015.

The central problem in this dispute between Airbnb and the government is that there is no legal framework for what Airbnb claims to be the majority of these unlicensed apartments – ordinary people who occasionally rent a room or their apartment. Airbnb officials believe these cases should be classified separately from the licensing of commercial tourist apartments that have been the focus of the discussions.

In a surprising change signaling a more collaborative and pragmatic approach, Barcelona’s deputy mayor of urban planning, Janet Sanz, highlighted the difference between residents occasionally renting out their space and tourist apartments that are furnished solely for commercial purposes during a conference in February 2017.

“There are no regulations at the moment. It is neither illegal nor legal. It is a-legal. We are trying to develop a specific standard so that the activity develops correctly. In this case, there is no substitution of the apartment because the owner still lives there, ”said Sanz.

She said that someone who rarely rents a room is “not the problem because this apartment always serves a family.” The problem is tourist apartments bought by big developers exclusively for tourist purposes.

Last month, however, Barcelona city council called Airbnb “the only major tourist accommodation platform that continues to operate in the city outside the law”, signaling lingering tensions between public and private actors.

We explore this relationship between Airbnb, the hospitality industry and local life in the inaugural Skift Lens documentary, “Barcelona and the challenges of 21st century tourism”. Watch it here.

A brief chronology of tourist apartment regulations

2011: The Catalan Parliament creates new licenses for tourist accommodation (HUT) throughout Catalonia.

2011: Barcelona City Hall stops all new HUT licenses in the old town.

2012: The Catalan Parliament clarifies HUT licenses, only regulating commercial operators of tourist accommodation.

2014 : Barcelona City Hall stops all new HUT licenses throughout the city.

2015 : Barcelona City Hall stops all tourist accommodation developments and hotel licenses.

2015 – 2016: The Catalan Parliament drafts a decree on tourism recognizing shared accommodation, but does not distinguish between professional and non-professional apartment rentals.

2016: Barcelona City Hall stops licensing for all tourism businesses.

2017: Barcelona City Hall recognizes non-professional housing sharing as “a-legal” or unregulated.

Watch Barcelona and the challenges of 21st century tourism

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