Spain is cracking down hard on Airbnb, just in time for tourist season

Not welcoming.
Not welcoming.
Image: Reuters/Enrique Calvo
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Spain, it’s fair to say, is not a fan of Airbnb. The short-term rental giant has been partly blamed for the nation’s over-tourism problem, and many residents see the throngs of tourists trying to “live like a local” as a scourge.

And just as the tourist season ramps up, yet another destination has announced plans to curb listings offered on Airbnb and other similar sites. Madrid’s municipal government has announced its plans to “preserve the residential use of buildings” by restricting the number of dwellings in the city that can be legally rented.

The new regulations, which were announced last week but are still pending approval, say that apartment or home rentals can’t be rented for more than 90 days per year. They also require that entire apartment buildings being used for short-term rentals to have the same license as a hotel. In the city’s central district, tourist flats will have to have their own entrance, separate from permanent residents. Some say that will translate to 95% of the city’s short-term vacation rentals being taken off the market

Madrid is far from the only city or region to push back against the sharing economy’s reshaping of tourism. Valencia’s regional government is looking to make similar moves, including plans to limit tourist apartments to the ground floor or first floor (to keep ocean views for residents only) and not allowing any new properties in the city’s historic center. Palma de Mallorca—a tourist hot spot that is the capital of Spain’s popular Balearic Islands—voted for a ban on nearly all short-term vacation rentals, which goes into effect in July. Meanwhile, Barcelona has a dedicated enforcement team to root out unlicensed listings. Around the world, cities including Amsterdam, New York, and Reykjavik have made similar moves.

A spokesperson for Airbnb told Quartz that the company is working with authorities in both Madrid and Valencia to “differentiate between professionals and regular families” hosting on the platform. He added the service “is part of the solution to local housing concerns in cities, and is helping put tourism euros in the pockets of local families—not just wealthy hotel groups.”

So how should travelers feel about using Airbnb, in the face of this resistance? The most serious complaint about Airbnb and its ilk, of course, is that an influx of tourists to residential areas can artificially raise local rents or home prices.

But while that’s often stated as fact, it’s hard to prove that Airbnb has had a significant effect on housing prices, as each housing market has its own drastically different set of variables. Bloomberg recently reported that while Airbnb listings often crop up in rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with rising housing prices, “this could mostly be a coincidence— travelers may enjoy staying in hip, up-and-coming neighborhoods, or new urban pioneers may start offering Airbnb rentals as they move in.” A study published in March found that a 1% increase Airbnb listings in the US results in a 0.018% increase in local rents and a 0.026% increase in house prices. It’s still an increase, but not quite the dramatic story that many critics tell.

Housing prices are not, however, the only reason locals dislike Airbnb and other short-term rental companies. Suitcases clogging hallways, late-night revelers banging on apartment doors, and tourists who come and go without a care for the neighborhood don’t help sell the home-sharing concept.

If you’re concerned about being a good guest to the place you’re visiting, you should obviously conduct yourself with decorum and respect for neighbors. Additionally, make sure you’re renting a legal listing—and don’t rely on Airbnb’s site to weed out problems. Research your destination’s restrictions beforehand, and if it’s unclear whether a listing complies, ask the host about the specifics. (In Barcelona, for example, hosts should be able to provide a license number if they haven’t included it in their listing.)

Still, the resistance of locals to Airbnb, in Spain and elsewhere, puts the company in an awkward spot. While tourism brings revenue and economic development—accounting for 11% of Spain’s economic output, for example—that doesn’t mean locals want all those tourists in their apartment buildings. Airbnb started with a lofty premise, but it’s hard to sell the “global community” vibe when there’s anti-tourist graffiti on the walls.