Barcelona rallies tourists against Airbnb

Barcelona's authorities have launched a campaign to encourage visitors to report illegal Airbnb listings.

The city council of Barcelona capped the number of licensed properties listed on sharing platforms, but said that it needed help to combat “unfriendly tourism.” To this end, the city launched a website allowing potential guests to check the legal status of a property, while highlighting that it had already closed down more than 2,000 illegal beds.

“Unfortunately, for all its legal accommodation available, Barcelona also has a range of illegal accommodation that harms not just the people who rent it—depriving them of their right to complain about any incidents and denying them the supplementary services they are otherwise entitled to—but also the city itself, as it creates speculation and illicit economies and its activities leave nothing positive for local neighbors, causing nuisance and complaints," a representative of the city council of Barcelona said in a prepared statement. “If you are visiting Barcelona, we need your commitment and cooperation to prevent the proliferation of this illicit economy in our city and the irresponsible, economically unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly tourism it encourages.”

Combating Home-Shares

Barcelona has 9,600 licensed tourist apartments in the city, with no plans to increase the number.

The most recent data released by Airbnb for Barcelona showed that the city had 20,000 listings spread over 16,100 hosts in 2016, earning $194 million for the year. In the same year the city council fined both Airbnb and Homeaway nearly $700 million for “advertising unlicensed tourist lodgings,” commenting that the decision came “after it had ignored the Council’s many complaints.”

Barcelona's city council also set up a working committee to provide a permanent forum for dialogue between it and the platforms Homeaway, Booking, Tripadvisor, Rentalia and Apartur to, it said, “address the sector’s challenges together and push proposals for improvements.” 

The city government was also working with the government of Catalonia to explore ways of strengthening existing legislation—the Tourism in Catalonia Act—by increasing the fines for repeated offenses and increasing the $700 million threshold for very serious violations.

Since then, the platform has worked closely with the authorities, and on June 1 launched a new tool to help hosts follow local tourism rules in Barcelona and make it easier for city hall to identify bad actors. The hosts of new listings on Airbnb were asked to indicate, before they listed their space, whether their listing needed to be registered under the law or not.

New hosts on Airbnb were also required to provide consent for certain details, including names, addresses and national IDs, to be shared with city and regional authorities, making it easier for them to verify that listings comply with the law and to help clampdown on potential bad actors.

"By working together, Airbnb and the city can help more local families share their homes, follow the rules and generate new revenue streams that make our communities stronger," Arnaldo Muñoz, general manager for Spain and Portugal at Airbnb, said in a statement. "Home-sharing is an economic lifeline for families and is helping to rebuild our tourism offering while spreading economic and social benefits to regular people across the city.”

The launch came after a year of discussions between Airbnb and Barcelona City Hall that Airbnb said had meant more than 2,500 listings being removed from the platform.

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