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Barcelona is fuming at tourists, and for very good reasons. In 2016, the city of 2 million residents, was visited by a staggering 30 million tourists. Now, this should be good news for a country struggling with its finances, right? Only, the introduction of Airbnb (et al), to the mix, has created a monster out of tourism, in the city. Let us try to understand’s Airbnb’s threat to the local community, and what we can do about it:
What threat do short term rentals pose?
Short term rentals have lowered the price of tourism. This has led to a massive influx of tourists to the city, putting unprecedented pressure on the infrastructure of Barcelona city. Short term rentees are also less respectful, disrupting the community with noise, filth, and recklessness. That is frustrating for locals.
But, the threat is more real than that. Airbnb, and similar businesses, offer close to 100,000 beds in the city of Barcelona. It is estimated that about half of them are illegal. Many tenants are illegally subletting their long-term rentals, as a side hustle. And the companies are abetting, by allowing those flats to be listed, without appropriate licences. Recently, a lady in Barcelona, became an illegal squatter in her own apartment. She realized that her tenant was sub-letting, posed as a customer, entered the premises, and refused to leave. This is a unique, but disturbing state of affairs.
Also, many long time residents are being evacuated from their apartments, by real estate sharks, who want to tap into the profit from the short term tourists. This is driving up prices, and pushing locals out of places they have called their own, for decades.
What is Barcelona doing about it?
Barcelona is determined not to become a victim of its own popularity. Last year, the city fined Airbnb and Homeaway $850,000 each, for listing unlicensed apartments. Regular protest marches are being organized by citizens, who want strict laws to limit tourism. They want to impose ‘day-tripper taxes’, ban hotel constructions, and put a cap on tourist numbers in landmarks.
As a tourist, these might seem unfair or unfriendly. But, we need to empathize with the plight of the residents, whose lives are getting uprooted in the process. Also, Barcelona is not alone in the struggle. NYC, San Francisco, and Berlin have already passed some laws to rein in the uncontrolled mushrooming of short term rentals. Similar tension is brewing in many other places in the world – Cape Town, San Diego, Santa Monica, Reykjavik to name a few.
What can we, as Travelers, do about it?
I love Airbnb. It has afforded me travel that I couldn’t have done otherwise. I am able to live the life of a local, vicariously, for the short duration. That gives me immense joy. Therefore, it was heart-breaking for me to face this side of the issue. But, a citizen’s right to affordable accommodation definitely trumps a traveler’s right to cheap travel. So, we need to do a few things from our side, to ease the tension:
- It breaks my heart to write this. But, if you can afford it, stay at a hotel. Avoid short term rentals in very busy tourist destinations
- If you must, rent a private room, with the original landlord, in her house/apartment. When we rent entire properties, we are incentivizing landlords to uproot long-time residents.
- Before renting, chat with the advertiser. Try to stay at a place offered by a resident, rather than a real estate firm. This is not simple to assess, but, long conversations should give clues. Avoid places handled by agents.
- When renting a local apartment, be respectful of the community. Don’t be loud, offensive, or callous towards residents. Respect the culture, and be mindful of the experience you are leaving behind for the locals.
How strongly do you feel about this issue? Comment below, or write to us at email@example.com
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