How Airbnb is hurting Italian cities

Florence, Italy (Florence, Italy)

A new report from the University of Siena warned that residents were being driven from Italian cities due to Airbnb rentals taking over available apartments.

The report, The Airfication of Cities, found that 18 percent of properties in the historic center of Florence were being rented out through Airbnb. Its analysis of Airbnb’s listings found that the “absolute majority” were entire homes or apartments, rather than private and shared rooms:

A staggering one in four homes in the Sassi area, the historic core of Matera, Italian city of culture 2017, are offered on Airbnb. This particularly high number is very significant, especially in relation to a multi-decade old phenomenon that researchers have pointed out—the touristisation and social desertification of Italian historical centers. 

Population has been lost, and city residents increasingly tend to perceive these areas with a certain detachment, as no longer belonging to their daily experience of the city. This is a phenomenon that pre-dates Airbnb by far, but the availability of Airbnb data allows us to effectively visualize part of the dynamics at play.

In typical Italian fashion, there has been very little debate over the long term consequences of a relatively new phenomenon, especially one associated with novelty, enterpreneurialism and “new” technologies, and the only intervention that the government has deemed necessary has been that of imposing a tax on homes rented through the platform.

The three larger cities frequently recurring in the touristisation discourse—Florence, Venice, Rome—all have a proportion of their centers’ housing stock on Airbnb above 8 percent. This figure could be considered a sort of canary value for the "Disneyfication" of the center. Cities approaching it should seriously reflect on whether touristisation and Disneyfication are desirable conditions for their historical center.

Next Steps

Cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin have already bought limits in to curb home-sharing in the city centers. In Amsterdam, hosts may rent their properties out for 60 nights a year and to no more than four people, provided they own the property or don’t live in social housing. In Berlin, entire homes cannot be listed—residents can only share the properties they live in. 

Earlier this year, research conducted by Colliers International and Hotelschool The Hague about Airbnb in The Netherlands found that almost 1.7 million overnight stays in 2016 were booked in Amsterdam. This was an increase of 125 percent compared to 2015 and Airbnb doubled its market share to 10.7 percent (from 5.4 percent) in comparison to hotels. 

“It should be controlled, but the only way that it can be controlled is if Airbnb cooperates,” Marieke Dessauvagie, hotel consultant, Colliers International, told HOTEL MANAGEMENT. “The municipality of Amsterdam is scraping websites—not just Airbnb but Wimdu and the others and their data is closer to ours than Airbnb’s and that’s the challenge here.

“Awareness helps. The more reports like this [on Italy] come out the more people are becoming aware and they are starting to reject Airbnb—the social pressure on both the people who use it and the people who are listing it on is starting to grow. Once the hosts start reading these stories and start thinking about what they’re doing and seeing the bigger picture they may think again.

“In Amsterdam growth in listings is slowing and in Berlin, where you can no longer list whole apartments, people are not deleting their listings, but it has stopped new supply. Little by little, these types of reports are having an impact.”

Social, rather than legislative, pressure may be the key to limiting the impact of Airbnb. Neil Baylis, competition partner, K&L Gates, said. “There is strong consumer demand and a lot of people are making good money so it is politically difficult to ban it or even restrict it, except in those countries that have serious housing issues. I don't see any new rules coming in for a while yet.”

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.