A new law on holiday rentals came into effect in the Basque Country on Wednesday. This is a region of Spain which, while it isn't recognised as being among the leaders for sun-and-beach tourism, does of course attract this market. San Sebastian, for example, can lay claim to being one of the finest resorts anywhere in Spain. It is also a region with city-break tourism in Bilbao as well as San Sebastian. There are coastal villages. There is surfing. There is gastronomy. Tourism is not unimportant, even if it is a tourism largely shunned by northern Europeans fearful that the Atlantic might not offer as benign sun-and-beach conditions as the Mediterranean.
Despite this, there has been a boom in accommodation. It's a familiar story to that of the Balearics, to Barcelona and the Costa Brava, to the Costa del Sol and to the Canaries. The debates and arguments in the Balearics over so-called saturation, partly brought about by the dramatic increase in private holiday accommodation, might make these islands seem unique. They are not. They share similar concerns with other regions, and as the Balearic tourism ministry undertakes the task of drafting holiday rentals legislation, it might wish to take a look at what the Basques have come up with, as there is one very significant aspect to their legislation.
The Basques have removed the loophole of the national urban leasing law (aka the tenancy act). Where accommodation is for tourist purposes it will be regulated only by the regional tourism legislation. As in the Balearics, it is clear when tourist purposes apply, even if there is no marketing that says so. The Basques are putting a stop to that.
But might this this legislative move be subject to possible legal challenge on the grounds of it being unconstitutional? The Basques are working around a national law after all. However, it has become increasingly obvious that the urban leasing law is a nonsense in that it creates confusion as well as what can amount to blatant fraud. There is a tax consideration to be factored in over and above income tax and VAT. San Sebastian, as noted last week, is looking at introducing a tourist tax. This couldn't be applied if property, by definition of a legal loophole, cannot be classified as being touristic.
Any challenge on constitutional grounds may fail in any event because when the national government devolved responsibilities for tourist accommodation regulation to the Spanish regions, this came with the urban leasing law attached. Or with its possible regional amendment. Biel Barceló has identified the leasing law as a major complication when it comes to effective regulation of private holiday accommodation. He would do well to get on the phone and speak to his Basque counterpart - only in Spanish, though.
The Basque law also has a language aspect. It is one which Barceló might be interested in (to the horror of many in the Balearic tourism industry). When it comes to classification of accommodation - star ratings for hotels and other systems for non-hotel accommodation - a weighting is to be given to the knowledge of Basque among staff, notably the frontline staff (hotel receptions, for instance). For Basque, substitute Catalan? The regional government here has said that it won't be compelling the private sector to employ Catalan speakers, but this might not stop it trying to take a leaf out of the Basques' book.