Barcelona will soon vote on proposals to seriously curb Airbnb and other short term rentals in the Catalan hotspot. The fundamental argument is simple: locals and entire neighborhoods are being displaced, because landlords can make multiples of their standard long term rental take, by catering to short term guests.

The much anticipated vote is seen in many tourism dominated cities as a landmark ruling for the future of the platform, and how it may fit into the travel equation.

Will Airbnb once again become a solution mostly for longer term stays, or continue to be a disruptor in travel accommodations for shorter trips?

The World Responds To Airbnb Impact

From Los Angeles to Tokyo; and just about everywhere in between, policies geared towards limiting the rise of Airbnb have come, gone, and been met with unintended consequences along the way.

One consequence most Airbnb centric policies have looked to avoid is the complete erosion of local housing opportunity, in favor of transient, short term stays. Barcelona is a prime example of locals being forced to move miles away, as tourist friendly areas become dominated by Airbnb listings.

Los Angeles voted to limit Airbnb hosting only to primary residences, where a person actually resides for at least 6 months of the year. In addition, all hosts were required to register and pay a modest fee for a license, as a bid to keep track of listings and ensure compliance in the tourist heaven. The only exception: long term stays.

Owners of LA vacation homes can rent out an additional property via online sharing economy platforms like Airbnb, or VRBO but only if the rentals are 30 days or more. It’s precisely why you don’t see many short term listings in Santa Monica.

Palm Springs shows similar nuance, where long term rentals over 30 days aren’t charged tax, aren’t limited annually, and are often preferred by local hosts.

Tokyo offered similar moves, requiring all hosts to register, and setting strict limits on the number of nights a property can be rented via these new platforms. Hong Kong went further, setting up a task force to kick doors in of suspected rule breakers.

The hope with each policy was that people would use Airbnb and other platforms as originally intended: a way to offset living costs by making extra money when you’re out of town, or to share unused space to actually making housing more efficient.

The world over, efforts to reign in Airbnb’s rising popularity have focused around the erosion of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods where a months rent was predictably in the $1000 a month range all but disappeared, as landlords switched to picturesque short term listings with more space and amenities – all priced below top hotels.

An attractive $100 a night to out of town guests could generate $3000 a month on a sharing platform like Airbnb, displacing locals who can’t afford the new premium, or who wish to avoid constantly clanking suitcases and the late night parties a revolving cast of neighbors can bring.

Barcelona’s Big Airbnb Vote

Barcelona Mayor, Ada Colau, is proposing one of the strongest global crackdowns to Airbnb and other home sharing platforms date. Airbnb is playing close attention.

Whereas policies in other cities allow primary residences to be shared, such as an extra bedroom for a night or two at a time, Colau’s policy would ban short term room rentals under 30 days. Yep, even for an extra bedroom in a home where you actually live, rather than just a ban on the rental of an entire apartment, or second home.

The policy to ban short term room rentals under 30 days was introduced in August 2020 as a temporary measure amid a raging pandemic, but official proposals now look to make the ruling permanent and without exception.

According to Bloomberg, Barcelona will vote in April after three months of upcoming public consultation. If approved, the vote would make the policy permanent and make Airbnb one of the strictest cities cracking down on this housing trend.

Up until this point, all bans have spared those looking to rent extra rooms, but Colau worries this leniency is ripe for fraud, as hosts simply pretend to take up residence, but are actually hundreds, or thousands of miles away collecting the money.

Many listings in the city would only be allowed for durations of 30 days or longer, which typically means hosts typically have less opportunity to make 3X the standard local rent, and may see little benefit in the stresses of renting to a revolving cast of 30 day guests, without any vetting, rather than to locals.

Many locals who rely on side income to offset living expenses like food and transportation could become unnecessarily hit out by the policy, since even honest listings where a person is truly ‘sharing’ their home would be banned.

Less choice for potential visitors could also change the demographics of who comes, and for how long. Those looking to spend two weeks may turn elsewhere, faced with overpriced hotels for two weeks, or paying for an entire month.

The timing is perhaps more interesting now than it ever could’ve been in a world before the global pandemic. Countries and top cities are eager to attract longer term, quality tourism which promotes the local economy, rather than micro-trip visits which take more than they give.

Destinations want people to who eat local, buy coffee local, take local transportation and contribute to the welfare of the community.

Destinations such as Key West, which have long bent for short stay cruise guests are now banning the entry of cruise ships in hopes of attracting guests who stay longer and spend locally across a variety of categories from lodging to food and transport.

Basically, tourism boards and city officials are going back to the drawing board in trying to create more sustainable and beneficial systems for the local community, and that may involve attracting fundamentally different guests. Travel is becoming classist once again.

GSTP Take: Enforcement Would Be Better

It’s hard to see how this policy wouldn’t hurt honest, hard working families which help supplement costs of living and supporting the family by sharing their home with guests who uses a spare bedroom for a short basis.

If they own the property and live there, why shouldn’t they be able to charge for someone to stay with them? How is that different to any other ‘sublet’ arrangement we all experienced out of college? Sure, there are people who could and would attempt to abuse this, but enforcement would seem more appropriate.

It’s quite sad to see quaint neighborhoods and the enviable shops and restaurants that go with them being uprooted by the diabolic plans of hoteliers in everything but name.

Turning local housing into crash pads for 2-3 day visitors, just because a wannabe property tycoon played too much Monopoly as a kid isn’t very neighborly, and frankly, if that’s a primary business dream – open a hotel. The rules are very different, for many reasons. One: safety requirements.

Airbnb Is Vital

I know first hand of the opportunities for both guests and hosts that Airbnb can create. They’re priceless, and it’s why Airbnb deserves a place at the table, forever.

Many of my best travel experiences have involved Airbnb’s, thanks to the ability to stay in more localized neighborhoods and I’d hate to see many listings go. Destinations like LA seem to have gotten it mostly right. If it’s your place where you live, you can rent it out. If it’s your second place, it’s gotta be for 30 days or more.

This keeps a balance on things, without ruining fair and equitable opportunity. If the city follows through with strong enforcement, there’s no need to worry about the what if’s, since they’d become knowns. When people know they could face jail time, their ease with fudging Airbnb paperwork drops quite a bit.

Hopefully Barcelona takes three months of public consultation to focus on weeding out bad actors, rather than punishing the livelihoods of those who embrace sharing economy opportunities for good, and for opportunity.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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12 Comments

  1. Airbnb must remain, alowing stays starting at one night only, if that’s what the traveller needs. It benefits lots and lots of people travelling places with big families where otherwise they wouldn’t be able to go if they had to pay for hotel fares.
    Please send me a link where can I express my views officially for this vote. Thank you!

  2. So basically Hotels will regain the monopoly for accomodation and will be able to rip visitors off as is their whim. If this goes through welcome to a bankrupt Barcelona!

  3. The fundamental flaw in the above article is whether locals being replaced by better-paying visitors equals to “erosion”. What exactly is being eroded?

    The affected areas usually consist of old buildings that are very expensive to maintain and repair which requires owners to earn quite a lot of money from renting them out. Locals are usually unable and unwilling to pay sufficient rents which leaves the aging houses in state of disrepair and neglect. Owners that rent them to visitors are far more willing and able to keep the houses in shape that is required to preserve them.

  4. AirBnB is no longer a platform for individuals – majority of flats are rented out by companies or wealthy landlords with a portfolio of properties. This is evident from AirBnB statistics. AirBnB is not the only option for a budget-conscious traveller: there are plenty of beautiful traditional bed and breakfasts, hotels for various budgets and hostels. Unlike hotels, AirBnB is poorly regulated (there is always an element of surprise when the host is not answering their phone, property is not as expected, etc) and doesn’t offer the same peace of mind as hotels in many ways. So all in all, AirBnB is just another business. Why should it have preferential treatment? As a popular tourist destination, Barcelona’s community suffered a lot due to rising rents, driven by AirBnB rates. Visiting tourists are mostly coming from the US and Northern Europe, where average income is higher than in Barcelona. As a result the local rents are going through the roof, making center of Barcelona only affordable to high earners and expats, and forcing locals, especially young professionals to live in a shared accommodation or to move further out of the center. There is a similar situation in London and New York, for example. But is it good? If proposed restrictions can pause or even reverse this trend, I am all up for it. There is plenty of affordable accommodation in Barcelona without AirBnB.

  5. Makes sense. AirBNBs are today primarily rented out by companies or wealthy individuals. The renters in most cases are looking for a cheap deal, rather than looking how to add to the community they are staying in.
    Please also look at this through the lens of those cities which have a huge number of tourists visiting, and now they want to get more of an upmarket tourist, not those who want to just go around drinking cheap booze and making an ass of themselves.

  6. Simply put, Barcelona has too many tourists and too little housing. This measure will provide some mitigation to both problems. The principal losers will be property investors and price-conscious visitors. Neither is likely to garner much public support.

    Anyone familiar with Barcelona knows that it’s infrastructure struggles to cope with current visitor numbers. The Gothic Quarter, the beach and other tourist magnets are hopelessly overcrowded. Much inner city housing has turned into holiday accommodation while workers face lengthy commutes.

    This seems like a sensible move for the city.

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