Venice and Florence ask for a brake on Airbnb

(CNN) – Tourists sprawled out on the sidewalks, garbage piled up in the streets and thousands lined up to enter museums. Surplus tourism seems a long time ago now, but the aftermath is still being felt in Italian cities, where locals have been ousted by Airbnbs, businesses have been swamped by souvenir shops, and entire economies have been hijacked by tourism. , then hung outside to dry.

But as destinations flex their marketing budgets for post-pandemic travel and countries and continents begin to draw up vaccination passport plans, two of Europe’s cities hardest hit by overtourism have developed a tourism manifesto. future.

The common “Decalogo” of Florence and Venice – literally a list of the Ten Commandments – was sent to the Italian government. He describes 10 things authorities in both cities wish to see happen as thoughts turn to return travel.

And as part of that, they want to limit Airbnb.

“The phenomenon of short-term rental must be better managed with clearer rules at the national level”, specifies the document, specifying that some people “hide a company behind a rental” without being subject to the same regulations as the professions of the hotel. Plus, rentals pay considerably less tax than bed and breakfasts and hotels – 21% versus 60% – meaning they can easily undermine registered businesses.

“The consequence is that too often an unskilled supply weakens the country’s overall supply”, they specify, adding that short-term rentals are “unfair competition” with hotels and can “generate problems in the region” , when it comes to apartments in a neighborhood. residential block.

Rentals “encourage the emptiness of historic centers due to the surge in rental costs over medium and long term periods.

“This digging, perhaps not so visible so far, and perhaps underestimated, is now clear to everyone, especially in cities like Florence and Venice,” the report adds.

A 90-day limit for Airbnbs

Urging the government to “take the situation seriously and prospectively”, they suggest classifying all rentals of less than 30 days as tourist purposes, and imposing a limit of two of these rentals on owners by city, and an Annual Limit of 90 days for rentals.

Many properties on Airbnb are owned by real estate investors who buy a handful of apartments for rent in Italian cities of art. They are often the cheapest, raising prices and crowding out locals from the market.

Those who own more than two properties, or rent them out for more than 90 days, would have to register as a business, the mayors suggest – they would then be subject to this tax regime which is three times more punitive.

Cities are following in the footsteps of other overly touristy destinations including Paris, which allows people to rent out their primary residence for only 120 days a year; and Barcelona, ​​which is considering a ban on short-term rentals.

What the locals think

Florence’s art galleries, including the Uffizi (pictured), have been beset by overtourism.

ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP / Getty Images

Residents appeared positive about the proposals, although some had reservations.

Veronica Greci, owner of Velona’s Jungle B&B on the outskirts of Florence city center, fully supports the mayors’ proposals. “This type of tourism has a much less positive impact than where you stay in official places,” she said.

“If you stay in a hotel or B&B like mine – which is always in an apartment – you are donating money to a place that provides jobs and has an impact on the economy of the region. different.”

She continued: “It’s not fair to see the city center completely emptied of its inhabitants as has become clear with the pandemic. Florentines live in the suburbs; in the center it is almost empty. It’s not pleasant for tourists to see either.

“In some places you don’t even meet the host – you enter a code and get the keys. It’s the absolute opposite of what Airbnb says, and it’s not tourism – it’s speculation real estate. “

The Venetians agreed, but were more hesitant.

“It is high time for Italy to regulate short-term rentals and the proposed new standards are a step in the right direction,” said Valeria Duflot, co-founder of Venezia Autentica, a social enterprise in Venice.

“In order to ensure a positive impact of such regulation, it would be important to encourage long-term rentals, to apply the new rules in a visible way and to use the income from rental taxes for the benefit of the community. local.” She cited an affordable housing plan as one of those uses.

But she warned that the “steady growth” of the hotel sector in Venice would also have to be capped, or the proposals could be seen as “a benefit to stakeholders with deep pockets and a loss to residents who are just looking to win. a few extra dollars to be able to stay in their city. “

Giulia Rossi d’Essere a Venezia, a real estate agent in the city, also had mixed feelings.

“It’s really interesting that, for the first time, these proposals differentiate Italian art cities from the rest of the country,” she said. “So far we’ve only talked about regulation at the national level, which doesn’t make sense because what might be brilliant for Venice would be unnecessary elsewhere. So it’s smart to treat these cities differently.”

Although Rossi never facilitated tourist rentals “on principle – seeing how they took root, I realized how damaging they would be to the historic center”, and is against them in general, she argued that “A 360-degree approach to the entire hospitality industry” is needed.

“Otherwise, you end up acting in the best interests of the big hotels, which turn entire buildings that used to be residential into reception blocks.

“It’s fair to regulate tourist rentals, but we have to remember that there are people who bought properties and restored them – restoration work that brought in a lot of money for the city – assuming that ‘they could make money out of it. And you can’t just change things from one minute to the next when people have made an investment.

“Until 10 years ago there were so many abandoned apartments – they were in terrible shape. It was too expensive to restore them because the cost of maintenance in Venice was too high.”

In reaction to the mayors’ proposals, an Airbnb spokesperson told CNN:

“Travel is changing – in the last quarter of 2020, more clients stayed in Sicily than in Florence and Venice combined – and we look forward to working with cities to help local economies rebound.

“The leaders of Florence and Venice have made it clear that they support ordinary people sharing their homes and we look forward to working together on a way forward that supports families and communities.”

These other commandments

Other initiatives include the need to “preserve the character and the historical and cultural fabric of cities” by awarding new store openings only to those selling high quality works of art and local products, and by introducing new store openings. rules on storefronts to improve the street environment.

They also suggest regulating tour guides and banning the phenomenon of “free tour”, where often unregulated guides work for tips, as well as introducing tougher penalties for degraded buildings and further developing rooms. smart controls to monitor the flow of tourists.

The prices of public transport tickets must rise to make up for the lack of tourism income during the pandemic, they add.

But not everything is punitive – they also want to see more environmentally friendly transport.

Calling the cities “two global symbols of beauty”, Florence Mayor Dario Nardella said in a statement that Florence and Venice “signed a pact” to “revive the image and appeal of Italy”.

“International tourism in Italy can only start if the cities of art start,” he added.

“As soon as the borders reopen, the country must be ready.”

The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, said the document was an opportunity to present “ideas from an organizational perspective of cities, which we have been struggling for too long for people to listen to”.

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