Government wants new rules on tourist accommodation
Initiative to regulate unlicensed vacation rentals draws criticism from hotel sector amid growing tensions over visitor numbers
With tensions over the impact of tourism mounting this summer, the Catalan government is aiming to regulate the rental of residential accommodation for tourist use. The executive is looking at creating a ‘home sharing’ designation for private accommodation leased to visitors, which will have to meet certain requirements, such as registering the occupants of the property during their stay, the maximum number of places in the dwelling and inclusion on Catalonia’s Register of Tourism. According to sources in the Ministry of Business and Knowledge, the rental of this accommodation would only be allowed for short periods but without any annual limitation.
The initiative is the executive’s response to the growth in unlicensed tourist accommodation through online services, such as Airbnb and HomeAway. It is also one of the conclusions of a government report on the sharing economy due to be presented at the end of August or the beginning of September. The increase in short-term vacation rentals through online operators is having a major impact on the local tourist sector, with around 40% of Barcelona’s 16,000 holiday apartments rented out illegally by sites such as Airbnb, according to city council figures.
"It concerns us that the proposals included in the measure, rather than solving the problems of social harmony we have seen in the past year, particularly in the city of Barcelona, will merely make them worse"
Yet, the federation representing Catalonia’s hotel and restaurant sector, ConfeCat, quickly declared its opposition to the plan, warning that the ‘home sharing’ idea would not only endanger “the quality and excellence of the country’s tourism,” but would also exacerbate the tensions between local residents and visitors. "It concerns us that the proposals included in the measure, rather than solving the problems of social harmony we have seen in the past year, particularly in the city of Barcelona, will merely make them worse," said ConfeCat in a statement.
Expressing its concern for the growth in unlicensed tourist accommodation, the organization suggests that any new regulations “should address and resolve this serious concern, which does not mean legalizing everything.” While dismissing the need for new regulated forms of tourist accommodation, in its statement ConfeCat challenged the authorities to come up with a tourist plan for a balanced restructuring of the sector in-line with the country’s general interests.
In January, Barcelona’s local authority introduced a new law to curb the impact on the city’s 1.6 million residents of an estimated 32 million visitors to the Catalan capital every year. The special urban plan for tourist accommodation limits the number of beds on offer in hotels and apartments. It also imposed a moratorium on building new hotels and a halt to the issuing of new licences for tourist apartments. Moreover, while a city council survey carried out in October found that Barcelona residents perceive tourism to be one of the city’s biggest problems, second only to unemployment, 83% of residents recognize that it benefits the city. In fact, tourism accounts for 20% of Barcelona’s annual GDP.
Nevertheless, tensions over the number of tourists in the Catalan capital have continued to mount this summer. Arran, the youth wing of the left-wing CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) party, has recently begun an anti-tourism campaign, which has included the vandalizing of city-owned bicycles and a tour bus near FC Barcelona’s stadium. The Arran campaign comes in the wake of a series of protests in the past year by residents complaining of mass tourism and rising rents. Several hotels have been paint-bombed this year and anti-tourist graffiti has appeared in many parts of the city.