Tourist Sector Hits Back At Airbnb, HomeAway & Niumba

18 May 2015 – Expansión

The sector is demanding a stronger institutional fight against the intermediaries. The Government says that each region is responsible for its own response.

The main Spanish tourism companies have teamed up in an offensive with the aim of limiting the power of the proliferation of unregulated tourist rental accommodation, which do not pay taxes and do not meet the safety, hygiene and space requirements and other guarantees offered by legal accommodation. The sector wants to curb the platforms (websites such as Airbnb, 9flats, Wimdu, Rentalia, Niumba and HomeAway, amongst others) that make money by acting as intermediaries. And to that end, it has been pressuring the Spanish Government for some time to prohibit them, since they think that the autonomous communities are not fulfilling their regulatory duties.

Over the last few months, the tourism association Exceltur, whose members include prestigious companies such as NH, Melia, Iberia, American Express, Hotusa and Globalia, has been holding conversations with the Secretary of State for Tourism (who reports into the Ministry for Industry, Energy and Tourism). Exceltur thinks that the Executive “could do a lot more” to regulate the operations of these rental companies, which it considers are unfair competition and which threaten its business. The main trade association for Spanish hoteliers, Cehat, estimates that between 2010 and 2013, the number of customers staying at these establishments increased by 300%, and it calculates that the number of foreign tourists who use them represents more than 20% of the total.

To support its position, Exceltur has commission the consultancy firm EY (Ernst & Young) to conduct a study analysing the impact that this illegal rental accommodation is having on the tourism sector as a whole, not just on the hotel segment. To date, EY has prepared a report about the consequences for the Balearic Islands if this rental accommodation continues to grow at its current rate over the next ten years. According to its calculations, the hotel sector would lose between 5,000 and 13,000 jobs and forgo a gross added value of between €211 million and €529 million.

Regional jurisdiction

The Government says that tourism is a regional jurisdiction, and so the Central Administration cannot do much beyond trying to standardise the regional regulations as much as possible. Moreover, the upcoming regional and general elections are likely to scupper any attempt at reform.

To date, the regions that have endeavoured to do the most to regulate tourist rental accommodation are Madrid and Cataluña, although the former received a blow from the National Competition and Markets Commission (CNMC) in March when it ruled that the Madrid law (which only allows accommodation to be rented provided the minimum stay is five days) is a barrier to free competition.

Meanwhile, the Catalan Generalitat requires intermediary websites to ensure that each property offered for rent has a kind of identification number plate to accredit it as accommodation with its license in order. Last summer, Cataluña imposed a fine of €300,000 on the web portal Airbnb for allegedly failing to comply with that standard.

On an international level, cities are taking a variety of decisions. Thus, for example, New York has declared war on tourist rental accommodation, with coordinated teams of tax inspectors, police and lawyers; and the town hall of Amsterdam has just approved an agreement with Airbnb, which requries the platform to coordinate the collection of the tourist tax that is applicable to the activities of its users.

The so-called “collaborative economy” represents a real headache for legislators, both in Spain and across Europe. In Spain, Article 16 of the Law for Information Society Services (2002) states that intermediaries (such as Airbnb, Uber and others) are not liable for the possible unlawfulness of the people they host, unless they have specific knowledge thereof. Meanwhile, the European Commission is drafting a directive that may ease restrictions on the European market and facilitate the activity of these platforms.

Original story: Expansión (by Yago González)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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