25 January 2017 – Expansión
Same rules of the game / Directors of several major hotel chains are accusing the collaborative economy platform of unfair competition. They are also demanding more regulation and control by the authorities regarding homes made available for tourist use.
Fitur – the major tourism fair – brought together the main players in the tourism sector once again: airlines, hotel groups, transport companies, tour operators, travel agencies and purchasing centres, amongst others. One group of player, who did not attend but who were omnipresent at all the meetings, were online platforms, such as Airbnb. Even the definition of the collaborative economy was generating controversy.
Sources at Madrid’s Hotel Business Association (AEHM), the capital’s hotel trade association, emphasised that the boom in tourist homes is not only a phenomenon that is affecting cities such as Barcelona, although that city is hitting the headlines the most.
“Madrid has seen spectacular growth, increasing from 10,000 to 20,000 homes in one year and from 37,000 to 74,000 beds, although most of those have not been registered”, said the AEHM’s President, Gabriel García. “It constitutes unfair competition for the sector and it must be addressed”, he said.
Gabriel Escarrer, Vice-President and CEO at Meliá, was equally convinced. “There is a lack of regulation in the poorly-named collaborative economy. Meliá spends almost €18 per room in order to comply with regulations, not just in terms of taxes and licences, but also to comply with specific measures such as fire-proofing, security, occupational health and safety. That generates a disadvantage for us with respect to any individual who decides to rent out their apartment; what’s more, in most cases, those apartments do not have a licence or pay VAT”, he said.
For Escarrer, the person responsible “should not only be the owner of the home, but also parties that include such properties on their websites when they do not have operating licences”.
The Director General at the Palladium Group, Abel Matutes Prats, is aware that “we cannot buck the trends”, but, he emphasises that “it is unfair that there is so much regulation for hoteliers and yet a complete lack of regulation, both fiscal and normative, for everyone else. To illustrate the situation, he says that one segment has five referees watching over it, whilst the other has none”.
Antonio Catalán, President of AC by Marriott expresses the same sentiment. He considers that it is essential that the authorities act.
Sources at Airbnb say that they are not opposed to regulation but rather that they require it to “allow people to share their own homes”, in other words, they want “a single legal framework for individuals, distinct from the one applicable to professionals”. And they add: “The existing framework favours professional operators and harms those middle class people and families who want to open up their habitual residence. The collaborative economy needs clear legislation and Airbnb has always been open to working with cities to identify specific solutions”.
(…). “In many urban centres, residential assets are being converted into tourist properties and many cities are just not ready for the change, from the point of view of infrastructure or services. This results in problems for people living together”, explains Escarrer.
For Catalán, the key resides in “what type of city we want, Paris or Cancun, and what we have to do to achieve it”.
“In Ibiza, a type of tourism-phobia is started to emerge, which is hitting hoteliers. We have fewer rooms there than before. We bring fewer tourists than before, with higher quality but less volume. Why are there more tourists? Because of the collaborative economy. We need specific laws, like in New York, to limit the duration of stays and to require tourist apartments to comply with certain minimum health and safety requirements, and moreover, for tax fraud to be prosecuted”, said Matutes.
Airbnb’s sources reiterate that they are “part of the solution” to the challenges that cities are facing: “Airbnb complements the traditional tourist industry and helps to redistribute economic benefits from tourism amongst citizens, communities and neighbourhoods”.
Original story: Expansión (by Rebeca Arroyo)
Translation: Carmel Drake