“We have many problems with access to housing”. | DANIEL ESPINOSA


The European Committee of the Regions has held a debate in Brussels to discuss the impact of Airbnb and other accommodation rental websites. The debate, said the European Commission’s director for the internal market, Amaryllis Verhoeven, was about data collection and not about conditions by which limitations on rentals can be established. In effect, however, it was precisely about limitations, as data - who is renting, where they are renting, how long they are renting - go to the very heart of the debate about the impact.

The data, if these are available and are shared across a common system for the whole EU, provide exactly the evidence that regulators - municipal, provincial, regional, national and indeed international - might need in further developing rules and establishing limitations. And Verhoeven admitted as much: “Better transparency will result in more proportionate regulations. We are building sustainable tourism, so it is in the interest of all stakeholders to have all the data (aggregate and not personal).”
Representative after representative, city and regional, made much the same points. For the Balearics, the director-general of foreign relations, Antoni Vicens, called for an improvement to sanctioning powers in order to give regulators more legal certainty, adding that “we have many problems with access to housing”. Airbnb’s European director, Emmanuel Marill, argued that a lack of housing was due to various factors, e.g. not enough has been built, and that there are around “a million landlords” who contribute to other aspects of the economy by renting out.

But the European Parliament’s speaker on tourist rentals, Kim van Sparrentak, responded to the Airbnb defence by observing that “you say that Airbnb and housing are separate things, but in reality this is the crux of the matter”. “People no longer have access to housing. These are two very interrelated issues.”

As Kim van Sparrentak is a member of the Dutch Green Party, her observation will come as no surprise. This doesn’t, however, invalidate what she has said. Definitely not, as she is absolutely correct in highlighting the relationship, as it is evident and has been for several years in cities and on islands. Moreover, it is a relationship understood by parties of different political persuasion. This is not a right or left thing. It can’t be when housing problems are as they are and can’t merely be wished away by saying that more properties should be built. What? So that they can be advertised for rent on Airbnb?

So regular have been the discussions about Airbnb and other holiday rentals’ websites - some 700 in Europe, according to Amaryllis Verhoeven - that they have been all but done to death. But no, as there is far more mileage in them. The debate in Brussels the other day will form the basis for further EU talk. One day, who knows, there may be a common agreement among all member states for regulation that really can’t come soon enough.

There again, there is regulation and there is regulation. In the Balearics, Més, now prime movers in seeking reductions in tourist accommodation places, made a rod for their and everyone else’s back with the 2017 regulation introduced by a Més tourism minister, Biel Barceló. The desire to “democratise” tourism by enabling legal registration of apartments has backfired. The legal market for holiday rentals’ places has gone from 20,000 to over 100,000 in the space of a decade. There’s your saturation for you, because it has most certainly not come from an advance in hotel places on anything like this scale.

Plus, there is the persistent illegal offer. Out of interest, I looked on Airbnb’s Mallorca page on Monday. One of the first places to pop up was an apartment that I know to be illegal. This apartment, for various reasons, can’t have a tourist licence. Did the advert show a tourism ministry licence number? No, but Airbnb aren’t bothered, as they have successfully argued in court that they are just an intermediary. They are not responsible. Quite, they aren’t.

Redistributing summer’s tourists

The Balearic government, seemingly having intimated that 16.5 million tourists a year is a limit never to be exceeded, has once more been referring to a redistribution of tourists away from the high summer months to the low season.

How successful is this currently proving to be? Not very, if one goes on the basis of the final two months of 2022. In November, the total number of tourists (foreign and Spanish) was 299,960. In pre-pandemic November 2019, it was 298,630, and this small increase was only possible because Spanish tourism was up by more than 18,500.

In December, the total was down 7,358 compared with 2019 to 234,846. That the difference wasn’t greater was thanks not to Spanish or German tourists (roughly 13,000 and 17,000 fewer, respectively, than in 2019) but to the likes of the French, the Swiss, the Dutch, the Scandinavians and even the British - 2,300 more than in 2019 to a whopping 17,764.Redistribution, it’s fair to say, has some way to go.