Barcelona calls Airbnb’s offer to limit apartment rentals “a mockery”

City insists one ad per homeowner in Ciutat Vella district is still too much and that practice is illegal

Clara Blanchar

The ongoing confrontation between Barcelona city officials and the homesharing website Airbnb over illegal apartment rentals has just moved to a new level. After the Catalan capital became the first city in the world to fine Airbnb for advertising and renting out apartments to tourists without a license, the company’s head of public policy in Europe, Patrick Robinson, said the site will limit the number of ads in the central district of Ciutat Vella to one per homeowner.

A protest against tourist apartment rentals in Barcelona.
A protest against tourist apartment rentals in Barcelona.M. MINOCRI

But the city’s reply has been swift and scathing.

“This is a mockery. Airbnb is making a mistake, it is not possible to advertise unlicensed apartments. We’ve already said that we will crack down on illegal tourist accommodation,” said Agustí Colom, head of the Barcelona department of tourism.

Airbnb admits that Barcelona poses greater challenges than other cities

Ciutat Vella comprises four of the city’s most popular neighborhoods for tourists, including Barceloneta, El Raval and Barri Gòtic. In some of these, half of the residential buildings contain apartments being used for tourist rentals – a practice that authorities say pushes up prices and creates other problems for permanent residents.

The US-based homesharing company has 4,500 apartments listed in the area. Robinson said that only licensed professionals will be allowed to advertise more than one apartment, and that this restriction could be extended beyond the district of Ciutat Vella in future.

The company representative also offered the local executive, which is headed by the leftist mayor Ada Colau, the option of collecting the tourist tax, which would bring city coffers an additional €6 million a year.

But the Colau administration has repeatedly rejected this offer because it would be tantamount to legitimizing what it sees as Airbnb’s illegal practices. Only platforms advertising legal rentals will be allowed to collect this tax, said tourism chief Colom.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has pledged to find a balance between tourism growth and sustainable living in the city.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has pledged to find a balance between tourism growth and sustainable living in the city.TONI ALBIR (EFE)

Airbnb, which insists that it has reached deals with 300 governments and cities all over the world, admits that Barcelona “poses greater challenges than other cities.”

“We share a desire to have a responsible, sustainable kind of tourism in Barcelona, and we are convinced that we are part of the solution,” said Robinson and Ángel Mesado, head of institutional relations for Spain.

A pledge to curb tourism

Ada Colau, a social activist with no prior experience in politics, won the May 2015 mayoral election on a promise to create a balance between tourism industry growth and quality of life for the locals. Warning that Barcelona did not want to end up like Venice, she introduced a temporary moratorium on new licenses for tourism accommodation shortly after taking office.

Barcelona received over eight million tourists in 2015, in a city with a population of 1.6 million.

Tourist accommodation in the city has been growing at an exponential rate that not even the economic crisis was able to slow down: from 23,719 hotel beds in 1991 to 69,128 in 2013.

English version by Susana Urra.

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