SPAIN-TOURISM/AIRBNB Barcelona mayor's tourism crackdown puts Airbnb in firing line
SPAIN-TOURISM/AIRBNB Barcelona mayor's tourism crackdown puts Airbnb in firing line
- Title: SPAIN-TOURISM/AIRBNB Barcelona mayor's tourism crackdown puts Airbnb in firing line
- Date: 27th August 2015
- Summary: BARCELONA, SPAIN (RECENT) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF GAUDI'S SAGRADA FAMILIA CHURCH TOURISTS LOOKING UP AT CHURCH OPEN TOP TOUR BUS OUTSIDE SAGRADA FAMILIA VARIOUS OF A PACKED BARCELONETA BEACH MEN DRINKING COCKTAILS OF SEA SHORE PEOPLE SUNBATHING WOMEN WALKING ON BEACH MAN ON BEACH PRACTISING COCKTAIL MAKING TRICKS WITH EMPTY BOTTLE PEOPLE IN BEACH BAR BARCELONETA BEACH WITH W HOTEL IN THE BACKGROUND WOMAN TRYING TO LURE PEOPLE TO HER BAR VARIOUS OF TOURISTS DRINKING SANGRIA IN OUTDOOR BAR TABLE EXTERIOR OF BUILDING WITH SIGNS COMPLAINING ABOUT NOISE SIGN READING IN ENGLISH "WE DESERVE TO REST" SIGN ON BALCONY READING IN ENGLISH " WE NEED TO REST" TOURISTS USING THEIR MOBILE PHONES ON THEIR BALCONY DECORATED WITH A GERMAN FLAG EXTERIOR OF BLOCK OF BUILDING EXTERIOR OF BUILDING WITH SIGNS READING "NO TO TOURIST FLATS" SIGN ON BUILDING READING IN ENGLISH "BARCELONETA IS FOR PEOPLE WHO RESPECT IT" AND SERIES OF RULES OF CONDUCT INCLUDING INSTRUCTIONS TO RESPECT NEIGHBOURS AND KEEP NOISE LEVELS LOW AS WELL AS NOT USING THE STREETS AS TOILETS MAYOR OF BARCELONA ADA COLAU WALKING DOWN THE STAIRS IN THE CITY HALL BUILDING VARIOUS OF COLAU WORKING AT HER DESK (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) MAYOR OF BARCELONA ADA COLAU SAYING: "Everyone must comply with the same game rules. What we cannot have is an internet platform that becomes a means to break the rules in support of illegal tourist apartments which is what is happening now. In this case we have to intervene forcefully because it is not right that, through a system of sharing economy using the internet, digital platforms support illegal activities where taxes are evaded generating an unjust and uneven situation in relation to other economic activities. So, Airbnb, like any other platform, needs to be regulated and they need to follow the collective and democratic decisions of the city." CROWDS ON LAS RAMBLAS WOMAN WALKING IN CROWD PULLING SUITCASE TOURISTS TALKING ON STREET TOURISTS WALKING (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRODDI OTTENSEN, 25, TOURIST FROM ICELAND, SAYING: "We are from Iceland and we decided to visit because we wanted to go to the sun and enjoy our holiday." / (SOUNDBITE) (English) ANITA AXELDOTTIR , 21, TOURIST FROM ICELAND, SAYING: "It's a big city and you have a beach so it's both things. You have a lot to see and then the sun and the beach too." (SOUNDBITE) (English) EMMA FLANNIGAN, TOURIST FROM AUSTRALIA, SAYING: "We haven't left the hostel because we got too drunk the night before, it's dangerous." RESIDENTS OF LA BARCELONETA NEIGHBOURHOOD PROTESTING WITH SIGN READING "FOR THE ABOLITION OF ALL TOURIST FLATS" VARIOUS OF RESIDENTS PROTESTING (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ANA MARIA PAJES, NEIGHBOUR PROTESTING AGAINST TOURIST FLATS, SAYING: "They don't let us live with all their drunken partying. This year is worse than last, more chaos. It's day and night, at all hours. Drunken parties on the beach, in the sea, then they chuck their bottles." PROTESTERS CHANTING "THEY WILL NOT MOVE US OUT" VARIOUS OF ORIOL CASABELLA, SPOKESMAN FOR THE BARCELONETA NEIGHBOURHOOD GROUP, SAYING (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ORIOL CASABELLA, SPOKESMAN FOR THE BARCELONETA NEIGHBOURHOOD ASSOCIATION, SAYING: "The tourist flats are making the area much more expensive. Flats that could perfectly well be rented for 300 or 400 euros (a month) are being rented for 600 or 700, very small flats, because of the real estate speculation we are experiencing in Barceloneta. That is one of the main complaints and why we don't want private flat rentals to tourists." EXTERIOR BUILDING WITH SIGNS READING IN CATALAN "NO TO TOURIST FLATS" SIGN READING IN CATALAN "NO TO TOURIST FLATS" EXTERIOR BUILDING WITH SIGN READING IN CATALAN "NO TO TOURIST FLATS"
- Embargoed: 11th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Spain
- Country: Spain
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA7U0I20J0LNLZBXZEL1ZIHW8AO
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Millions of tourists from all over the world pour into Barcelona every year to enjoy the city's sites, the architecture of Antonio Gaudi and the Catalan capital's beaches, relaxed Mediterranean outdoor living, nightlife and beach parties.
Spain expects a record 68 million foreign visitors this year and hopes the billions of euros they spend will strengthen Spain's recovery from a deep economic crisis.
In Barcelona, sky-high numbers of visitors are creating intense strains with some local residents angered by loutish behaviour by foreign tourists and fearful that pressure for ever more hotels and short-let tourists flats will raise rents and force them to leave the area.
The newly-elected mayor of Barcelona, former anti-eviction activist Ada Colau, has taken up the cudgels on their behalf, freezing permits to build new hotels and cracking down on Airbnb and other websites that she says let unlicensed apartments to tourists.
Barcelona, which has seen a sharp rise in tourism since it hosted the Olympic Games in 1992, is an example of a city that has in some ways been a victim of its own success in attracting tourists and is now thinking hard about how to manage tourism in future, even considering whether it should seek to limit visitor numbers.
From 2008 to 2013 there has been an 18% rise in tourist accommodation in Barcelona, Colau said, an increase not seen since the days of the real estate bubble.
"Everybody must comply with the same game rules," Colau told Reuters in Barcelona's city hall. "What we cannot have is an internet platform that becomes a means to break the rules in support of illegal tourist apartments which is what is happening now. In this case we have to intervene forcefully because it is not right that, through a system of sharing economy using the internet, digital platforms support illegal activities where taxes are evaded generating an unjust and uneven situation in relation to other economic activities," she added.
Colau, who headed a coalition backed by Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos, is one of a new breed of local politicians who have come to power amid a backlash against traditional parties.
The dispute with rental websites is an example of the friction 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 online taxi service Uber in a number of countries.
San Francisco-based Airbnb, which matches people wishing to rent out their homes or rooms to temporary guests, has been one of the fastest-growing start-ups of recent years and is valued at more than $20 billion.
Airbnb, which has around 18,600 listings in Barcelona, its third highest number in Europe, said property owners could add the tourism registry number to their listing and said its users must comply with local rules.
An Airbnb spokesman, asked if it would hand over owners' information to city hall, said it would not do so voluntarily.
Booking.com, operated by Priceline Group Inc, said it had "stringent measures in place" to make sure all its properties around the world complied with local laws.
Tourism provides nearly 400,000 jobs in Catalonia, 13 percent of the total, and it makes up 12 percent of Barcelona's economic output.
But with 27 million visitors descending on the city of 1.6 million last year, the procession of tourists flowing down Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most famous street, through the old town and the port lined with luxury yachts is becoming too much for some local people.
Tourists however are unaware of the conflict that exists between residents and the ever growing number of carefree visitors in search of enjoying the sites, the sunshine and the nightlife.
Broddi Ottenson, 25, and Anita Axeldottir, 21, are from Iceland and have chosen Barcelona for their holiday because it has a variety of things to offer.
"It's a big city and you have a beach so it's both things. You have a lot to see and then the sun and the beach too," Axeldottir said.
Like Ottenson and Axeldottir, Emma Flannigan and her friends from Australia also said they enjoyed the sites, culture and shopping in Barcelona, and agreed that the nightlife was great too.
"We haven't left the hostel because we got too drunk the night before, it's dangerous," Flannigan said, laughing.
Although most tourists are not disruptive, those who are make daily life for local residents difficult.
Residents of La Barceloneta, a working-class neighbourhood next to the beach, hold regular demonstrations to protest against the growing pressure from tourism and tourists' bad behaviour, which they say includes drunkenness, urinating in the streets and partying until the early hours of the morning.
"They don't let us live with all their drunken partying. This year is worse than last, more chaos. It's day and night, at all hours. Drunken parties on the beach, in the sea, then they chuck their bottles," Ana Maria Pajares, a Barceloneta resident said, after one of the neighbourhood protests.
One target of their anger is the sharp increase in people letting out rooms or apartments using web sites such as Airbnb.
"The tourist flats are making the area much more expensive. Flats that could perfectly well be rented for 300 or 400 euros (a month) are being rented for 600 or 700," said Oriol Casabella, spokesman for a La Barceloneta neighbourhood group.
"If this doesn't stop, a time will come when they will throw us out because there are many people who can't afford these flats," he told Reuters.
It is not the first problem Airbnb has had in the region. In July 2014, the Catalan regional government fined Airbnb 30,000 euros ($35,000) for breaking rules on people letting individual rooms in their homes and threatened to block access to its website from Catalonia if Airbnb did not change its ways.
Colau says there are thousands of unlicensed apartments in Barcelona that are not paying the Catalan tourist tax of 0.65 euro ($0.76) per person, per night.
Soon after she took office, the council froze new licences for hotels and other tourist accommodation in Barcelona for up to a year.
The council will use that time to draw up a new plan for tourism and to see if there is still room for growth or if it is time to stabilise the number of visitors, Colau said.
For years before the freeze, new tourist apartments were banned in the old part of town.
The Airbnb spokesman said the rules being applied to home sharing in Barcelona were designed for a different era and that Barcelona should be introducing smart policies to support local residents - not acting against them.
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